Michigan running game overpowers Gopher defense

Anthony Maggio

ANN ARBOR, Mich. – Michigan Stadium, the Mecca of college football, provides the perfect place to capture the spotlight of college football.

Before Michigan defeated Minnesota 31-10 on Saturday, the spotlight focused on a pair of nationally ranked units, Minnesota’s rushing offense (No. 7) against Michigan’s rush defense (No. 4).

But Michigan’s rushing offense stole the show as the offensive line pushed around Gophers defenders like middle school bullies and ball carriers slipped past, jumped over and ran through Minnesota’s defensive line.

Sophomore tailback Chris Perry and junior fullback B.J. Askew paced the Wolverine running attack, rushing for 172 of the 300 yards on the afternoon, shattering Michigan’s previous season high of 189 yards amassed versus Miami (Ohio) on Sept. 1.

Perry led the way with 91 yards on 20 carries, with Askew picking up 81 yards on 14 carries. Eight different Wolverines ran the ball for more than 10 yards.

“We both work hard in practice and we’ve worked hard all season,” Perry said. “And to come out and try your best and then have people say the running game is sub-par, you know you’ve got to come out and prove everybody wrong.”

Statistically, Michigan’s run offense has sputtered this season. Going into Saturday, the Wolverines were ninth in the Big Ten at 136 yards per contest.

But Saturday reaffirmed what Minnesota coach Glen Mason said early in the week – Michigan is dangerous through the air or on the ground.

“They’ve got big running backs and big offensive linemen,” Mason said. “Michigan is hard to defend. You know they are going to want to establish the run.”

The Wolverines came out looking like they had the seventh ranked running offense rather than Minnesota. On its first drive, Michigan ran on eight of 11 plays capped by Askew’s five-yard touchdown run.

By the end of the first half, Michigan already ran the ball 25 out of 40 plays for 110 yards.

The holes in Minnesota’s defensive line only got bigger in the second half.

Before halftime, Michigan had two runs for more than 10 yards. In the second half, the Wolverines tallied double digits on six carries, and had two more runs for more than 10 yards called back due to penalties.

Of the 31 rushing plays in the second half, Michigan was not stopped for a loss once. The Wolverines continued picking up steam until the final second ticked off the clock, going 71 yards in 14 plays on the ground.

“Sometimes you don’t run as well as you can in certain games,” Askew said. “We got tired of that and we made sure that today was going to be a day we got the running game moving again.”

Michigan had success running inside or outside, around defenders or over them. The hands of Minnesota’s defensive line consistently slipped off of anyone in blue and maize.

The emergence of the run game is a positive sign for Michigan coach Lloyd Carr, as his team still faces Wisconsin and Ohio State.

“This is a long season,” Carr said. “Running backs in this conference take a beating. At this stage of the game, to have backs that are healthy and running hard you have a chance.”

Injury update

Strong safety Eli Ward didn’t make the trip to Ann Arbor because of a knee injury sustained against Ohio State on Nov. 3.

Cornerback Michael Lehan
didn’t play in the second half because of back spasms.

Not so special

Minnesota continues to have problems with the punt team. The Gophers had a punt blocked on Saturday for the fourth time this season.

“Our kicking game was atrocious,” Mason said. “I’m embarrassed by it.”

Tackling Jack

Senior safety Jack Brewer tied his season high in tackles with 18. Of those, 17 were solo tackles, a career high for Brewer.