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Preview: Minnesota Golden Gophers

When I originally previewed Minnesota in the summer, I knew they'd be improved, but I don't think anyone could have predicted the huge step forward they have taken this year. The Gophers have gone from 1-11 to 7-2, one of the greatest turnarounds in recent history. How have they done it? Mostly through turnovers and taking care of the ball. If Michigan wants to win in the Metrodome tomorrow, they'd best hold on to the rock.

Offense
The majority of Minnesota's offense goes through QB Adam Weber. Weber is having a so-so statistical year, coming in at 36th in the country in passing efficiency, but it's what he's not doing that's most notable: turning the ball over. Last year, he threw 19 interceptions, and this year he has been picked off just four times. His main target is notable white wideout Eric Decker, who, while nicked up, is expected to play this week. Other notable receivers include Ben Kuznia (also white), DeLeon Eskridge (not white, and also a tailback), and Nick Tow-Arnett (also white, but understandably - he's a tight end). Aside from Decker, however, it's not the wide receivers that make the passing game successful, it's Weber's distribution that's paramount. If Decker is still a little banged up, Michigan may be able to take advantage somewhat (he has nearly triple the number of receptions as Kuznia).

In the run game, there were many predictions of doom when Duane Bennett went down against Bowling Green, and was lost for the year. However, DeLeon Eskridge has stepped in and performed admirably. In fact, he's getting 4.2 ypc, only slightly worse than Bennett's 4.4, against better competition.Minnesota's worst rushing games came against Ohio State... Indiana(?) and... Montana State? They've gotten worse over the course of the year, and that's hopefully something the Wolverines can capitalize on.

Defense
The Gophers' main weapon on defense is the takeaway. They're currently 1st in the nation in turnovers gained, and 2nd in overall turnover margin. They're actually at or around middle of the pack by most other defensive metrics, such as rushing defense (53rd), Pass efficiency defense (51st), and total defense (65th), all against a fairly weak schedule. This means that if a team can hold onto the ball, they stand a good chance of moving it down the field against the Gophers. Of course, that means nothing to Michigan, as the Wolverines can't hold onto the ball to save their collective lives.

The Gophers have faced some fairly anemic offense, but none so bad as that of Michigan. Add in the fact that it is Nick Sheridan expecting to start in place of the oft-injured Steven Threet, and Wolverines fans are likely in for a long day. Of course, turnovers-as-defense isn't necessarily sustainable, and the Gophers were bad in that respect last year, so perhaps Michigan can get lucky and not turn it over too much.

Predictions
Michigan's starting QB throws at least 2 interceptions.
Eric Decker cannot finish the game because he is too hurt.
The Wolverines lose the jug, by a score of 31-13.

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“Preview: Minnesota Golden Gophers”