Episode 25: A look at Michigan

In this week’s episode of “The Weekly Rundown,” our staff discusses Michigan, the Gophers’ football team’s first opponent of the 2020 season. Michigan will try to keep the Little Brown Jug when it travels to TCF Bank Stadium on Saturday. 

Nolan O'Hara and Brendan O'Brien


INTRO MUSIC PLAYS

NOLAN O’HARA: Hello, and welcome back to another episode of the weekly rundown. Presented by the Minnesota daily. I’m your host Nolan O’Hara. Last week, Brendan and I discussed the Gophers upcoming matchup against Michigan, more so from the Gophers side of things. So, I thought this week we can focus more on Michigan. So, Brendan’s back again, he’s are football beat reporter. How’s it going, enjoying the snow?

BRENDAN O’BRIEN: On Tuesday, I just kind of hunkered down in my apartment, got some stuff done. Took a nice nap, snows good for napping and staying inside, not outside. How about you, Nolan?

O’HARA: Yeah, I’ve stayed inside for the most part and then realized I need to get my snow off of the car. So, then I decided to drive over here to the office and hang out here for a while. But that was about it, trying to avoid it as much as possible. And you know, last week, we kind of started off the podcast by talking about the rankings and whether the Gophers were positioned accurately. They finished the season ranked 10th last year, and we’re 24th last week in the rankings. They were 25th when they first got in there. But not playing is worked for Minnesota and the rest of the Big Ten. Every Big Ten team moved up in the rankings from their spot last week. And then so for Saturday’s matchup that means Michigan moved up from 19 to 18. And Minnesota has moved up from 24 to 21. Brendan, did you expect to see this jump right before the Gophers game?

O’BRIEN: Yeah, I think so just because one, there’s a lot of movement kind of towards the bottom of the polls and rankings every single week, usually, unless if there’s big matchups or big upsets, people will see the top 5-10 spots kind of stay true to what they are maybe a little bit of movement. But what summer anchors will say is that once you get down towards the bottom, it’s a little bit harder to rank some of those teams 18 through 20. And then on top of it, teams like Louisiana, not a traditionally a school that’s traditionally ranked in the top-25, they had a couple wins, they lost last week. Tennessee, a team that hasn’t been doing well, in previous seasons, they were ranked and then they lost last week’s they’ve fell behind the Gophers. And then Auburn also was upset by South Carolina. So, if you look at it nationally, it does make sense why Minnesota did move up a few spots even though they haven’t even play the game.

O’HARA: I thought one interesting thing too is – I don’t know how closely you looked – but did you see Wisconsin was tied for 14th with North Carolina, I believe?

O’BRIEN: I did not look that closely. That’s actually pretty interesting. And you’re right. They are tied.

O’HARA: I can’t say I’ve ever seen that before in the polls. But I thought that was something interesting to note. They moved up, they were at 15 last week. And last week, we also talked about you know some of the question marks for the Gophers and some things that they’ll be able to do well this season. I think we pretty much came to the conclusion, more or less, that the defense is the biggest question mark after losing Carter Coughlin, Thomas Barber, Kamal Martin and now Tampa Bay Bucs starring Antoine Winfield Jr. But you know, Michigan does have some question marks as well. They’re starting a new quarterback Joe Milton this year. Brendan, what have you heard about Milton? And what can the Gophers expect from him leading this Michigan offense?

O’BRIEN: So, in the press conferences that the gophers have had this week, Milton has been one of the talking points. Coaches have been asked about what to expect from Milton this coming week. How difficult is it to prepare for him? Just a little bit of background on him. He was a four-star recruit coming out of high school. So obviously, coaches thought the talent was definitely there. He didn’t really play much his past two years at Michigan, made it into seven or eight games, had a few passes one for a touchdown. He threw two interceptions. That was a question mark. And Joe Rossi defensive coordinator for the Gophers was asked, ‘Do they think there’s some things that they can exploit against Melton?’ And really Rossi, he was kind of differential to that question and basically just said that, you know, Milton hasn’t played that much, but that doesn’t mean that what we’ve seen from him in college is what we’re going to get on Saturday night.

Rossi expects a much better product and from Milton, just because he’s had a little bit more time to look at his own film, kind of improve some of his flaws in his own game, and then prepare specifically for this Minnesota team. And also, he’s gotten into some games where the games at that point were pretty much decided whether Michigan was winning or losing those games. So, Rossi also kind of said that really, those highlights might not paint a true picture of Milton. But overall, a lot of people have said that he had a big arm caught up coming out of college, high school rather, and had a big arm. So, you would expect it to be a talented quarterback. But again, with low game experience, you’re not quite sure what you might get.

O’HARA: Right. Yeah, and like you mentioned, there’s not much for the Gophers to look at on tape there, which will be interesting to see if Michigan tries to trick them or something early in the game. And under Harbaugh, they haven’t had that much success at the quarterback position. It’s been kind of one of those things where Michigan fans are hoping they get somebody who can give them the lift over Ohio State and it hasn’t happened. But they have had some talented running backs and they have two really young rushers who led the team last season will be returning in Zack Charbonnet, and Hassan Haskins. They combined for over 1300 yards and accounted for 15 Michigan touchdowns. So, with the new quarterback but two experienced but still younger running backs, what do you expect from Michigan’s offense overall? Do you think it’ll be a run heavy Saturday?

O’BRIEN: I think that’s probably the easy prediction to go with. Obviously, depending on how confident Michigan is in Melton heading into the first game of the season, you could see him throwing a little bit more depending on how confident they are. But just something to kind of keep in mind going off of last year in a 13-game season for Michigan, 10 of those games, they ran the ball 30 or more times. And in seven of those games, they ran the ball 40 or more times. They weren’t necessarily still one of the most run heavy teams in the big 10. But they those numbers still show you that they’re definitely dedicated to the run game, even if they’re not going to be as effective. They were eighth last year in yards per game at about 151 in rushing yards per game throughout the season. So, I would assume that they would lean on the run as well. Another important note about their offense is they are losing some receivers and Donovan Peoples-Jones, who left the program. And then Nico Collins who actually opted out of the season; two receivers that would have been good playmakers for Milton. So again, if Michigan doesn’t feel like they’re as confident in Milton’s playmaking at the beginning of the season and they still want him to build some chemistry with the receivers, then they might just be on the run more.

O’HARA: Yeah, it’ll be interesting to see what they kind of are able to do with that with losing those receivers and having a new quarterback um, but on the other side of the ball. It won’t be an easy game for Michigan either. They’ll have to contend with the gophers offense led by you know, Tanner Morgan, Rashod Bateman, Mohammed Ibrahim, and we’ve talked about it before but despite losing some of the players from last season, like Rodney Smith, like Tyler Johnson, the offense still is in pretty good shape this year, they return their offensive line. They have a really good number two wide receiver in Chris Autman-Bell, and of course, like I mentioned, we still have Tanner Morgan, Rashad Bateman and Mohammed Ibrahim coming back. So with all that being said, what do you expect from Michigan’s defense? What do you know about them? Do you think they’ll be able to slow down Tanner Morgan and the Gophers?

O’BRIEN: Yeah, I think one thing that’s really important to note is that Gophers players and coaches have really this week had high praise for Michigan’s defensive coordinator, Don Brown, and just all of the different things he brings to the table in a football game defensively. Some of the things to highlight that they’ve brought up is how aggressive their schemes are, are, and then how different their looks are from play to play. Sometimes they’ll give the opposing offense, just a variety of different defensive formations, whether they’re standing from certain sides of the defense, whether they’re kind of playing back in coverage. And, again, what Coach Fleck has said is that Michigan, despite you know, they might have some other players that have opted out, but they’re a blueblood university that has a national footprint, and that they have a lot of solid players that they can kind of plug and play and that they’re still going to get solid production out of them.

But in terms of Minnesota, they still have guys who obviously played well, like you just said in Morgan and Ibrahim and Bateman on the offensive side of the ball. And I think the question, ‘Can they slow down Morgan and the Minnesota offense?’ I think the answer would be, yes. But it really comes down to if those different defensive looks from play to play, confuse Morgan either at the line of scrimmage, pre-snap, or after, post-snap, and if Morgan’s confused, and you’ll be able to tell visibly, if Tanner’s holding on to the football a little bit longer than he would want to when he drops back on a pass. If he’s taking a lot of sacks, if he’s throwing into double coverage, those would be kind of some things to note that he might be a little bit more confused by that defense. But again, those would be some ways that they would slow them down. But again, it’s going to be tough for them to do so.

O’HARA: You mentioned like an aggressive Michigan defense, do you think the Gophers can expect a lot of pass rush? Or do you think they’ll try to key in on the run more?

O’BRIEN: I would assume that they’re going to bring a lot of pass rushers just because one key thing that Fleck brought up was having two defensive ends that he expects to make the NFL and be highly picked players in the NFL draft. So I would assume pass rush, but they just kind of bring pressure constantly. So, it doesn’t matter if it’s first down second down, they’ll probably keep on in on the run on someplace but then obviously, kind of bring the heat on. More telling pass passing downs, which might be like a third and eight or so.

O’HARA: For sure. And you know, last week we talked about to house there’s some Gopher players who are still on the fence, mentioned Falale on the offensive line. Has there been any update, any news in that regard?

O’BRIEN: There hasn’t been any update or news. PJ was asked about it in one of his press conferences this week. And he just at this point, he’s been asked about it a couple of times during the preseason and has declined to comment at that time and said at a later point, he would probably comment on players who had already made decisions to opt out or opt in publicly. And he’s just decided now that he’s not even going to talk about it just with HIPAA laws and not sure exactly what he can and can’t talk about. So right now, I would assume as what others that since there is no news about him not playing that he is going to be suiting up this season. And he’ll be on the field on Saturday night, but something to keep an eye out for just in case.

O’HARA: Yeah, definitely will be something to keep an eye out for especially as far as stopping that Michigan pass rush. But yeah, sounds like a lot of coach speak from PJ there.

O’BRIEN: Yep, definitely.

O’HARA: And one kind of development we’ve had this speak that at least I certainly didn’t expect was the weather. We got, like eight inches of snow yesterday. It’s supposed to snow again tomorrow. I didn’t, I saw that it wasn’t supposed to snow on Saturday, but who knows at this point. So, I guess we have to go over this one already. Do we think that the weather can play an impact? And do we expect it to make any impact on this game on Saturday?

O’BRIEN: I think the weather might play a little bit of an impact. I think it’ll be enjoyable because it kind of just reminds you of just mid-season Big Ten football. For anyone who is a college football fan, we’re getting a kind of a mid-season style football game, right at the beginning of the season, which I think is definitely exciting. I think what will probably impact the game a little bit more than the weather, but the weather could still be a factor depending on how cold or how windy and if there is snow. I think one factor that will play a huge role in this game is it being the first game and these coaches have had a few weeks now of sitting at home on Saturdays are having their early morning or afternoon practices. And then they get to sit at home and watch all these other conferences the SEC, Big 12, ACC play some competition and have seen some kind of some good things from some teams, some explosive plays. Obviously if you watch Clemson you saw a big score there. But you also see big mistakes from some of these other teams and I think what some of these coaches will do, after watching those few first few weeks of this odd season, are probably going to be more conservative, especially if they believe in the running game. I think they’re going to try to limit mistakes, limit turnovers, not put their own defenses in any difficult situations. So, that’s what I would expect, and the weather would just play into it just because if the winds weapon all over the field, no one’s going to be wanting to throw deep out routes or passes.

O’HARA: Right. And I think if it’s going to be snowing again on Saturday, I don’t think too many people be wanting to throw the ball either. But you know, just thinking about it, this is obviously a delayed season. But I don’t know if you remember the Miami Ohio game a couple years ago, it was like 90 degrees and it was like the second or third game of the season even. And here we are first game of the season. We already have a ton of snow before it.

O’BRIEN: Yeah, I had a picture pop up for a memory of it was October 20, about three years ago, and it was just nice and sunny, and I was riding my bike and I was just in some green grass. And now obviously October 20, 2020, I was cooped up in my apartment, no sun, just a bunch of snow.

O’HARA: Right? It was just like, got all this snow. A week ago, I was playing golf and I was talking to you like we should play some golf sometime. But now here we are.

O’BRIEN: Yeah, no more golf in 2020.

O’HARA: Yeah, seems like that season has ended. But, you know, just to wrap things up here. What do you think is like one key for each team? Like what could one, what could either Michigan or Minnesota do to you know, increase their chances of taking home the Little Brown Jug and starting the eight-game Big Ten season 1-0?

O’BRIEN: Sure. I think keys are pretty similar for both teams just because I think both teams will be kind of similar in mindset heading into the game, not wanting to turn the ball over, limiting mistakes, things like that. For Michigan, I think their biggest key is staying on schedule offensively throughout the whole game. You look at three of their losses last season. One was to Wisconsin, if you look at that score, it was not close. It was about 31 to I believe seven or 13. Then they played Ohio State. Ohio State ended up scoring two touchdowns in all four quarters got up, scored 56 points. So, they kind of got ran out of the building in that one and then in their bowl game against Alabama. They had the lead for a little bit and then just couldn’t hold on. So, I think for Michigan it’s staying on schedule offensively making sure that they’re not putting their defense in a bad spot as well and they’re still putting up points for Minnesota.

I think what will be big for them if they’re gonna have success against an aggressive defense is get your playmakers the ball and just get a bunch of them involved whether that’s obviously Rashod Bateman, Chris Autman-Bell, at the second receiver slot. We’ve talked about Mohammed Ibrahim in the backfield, but there’s other guys that in that running back room that could step up whether it’s a guy like Trayson Potts that Coach Fleck has mentioned as someone who’s not only a good runner, but a good receiver out of the backfield. Maybe, you know, they didn’t have as much, you know, production in the passing game, but maybe it’s a tight end that gets involved a little bit more. So, getting a lot of different guys, the ball, letting Tanner throw quick passes, if there’s going to be a pass rush coming in quick.

O’HARA: Do you have a final score prediction?

O’BRIEN: 31-23 and I’ll go with Minnesota.

O’HARA: And I’ll go 27-24 Minnesota. All right. I think it’s gonna be a tight game. I’m excited.

O’BRIEN: Yeah, I’m definitely excited for it to get some football. It’s gonna be cold. It’s gonna be pitch black, lights are gonna be on and it’s gonna be on ABC. It’ll be a fun time.

O’HARA: Yeah, nationally televised on ABC. So everyone, be sure to watch the Gophers on Saturday. And if you want to hear more, read more about Gopher football, you can check out a newsstand around campus, where we have our season preview edition. It came out on Wednesday. In previous years we’ve had one of these for each Gophers home game, but this year we aren’t printing unfortunately because of the pandemic. And we are only doing one, so be sure to grab a copy of it. It’s a really fun preview with a lot of good information about the Gophers this season. Brendan, as always, thank you so much for joining us. Have a good rest of the week and enjoy the game on Saturday.

O’BRIEN: Thank you Nolan, appreciate it.

OUTRO MUSIC PLAYS

O’HARA: In other news: College GameDay is returning to Minneapolis for the Gophers first game of the season against Michigan. The ESPN pregame show visited Minneapolis for the first time ever last year on a snowy Saturday. The Gophers took on Wisconsin in a game that decided the Big Ten west division. They chose an earlier game this year but will still get the snow. Gophers quarterback Tanner Morgan and Gophers receiver Rashod Bateman were named to the Big Ten Preseason Honors list. The list features 10 Big Ten players, five from the East and five from the West, and is voted on by members of the media. Minnesota and Ohio State were the only two teams with multiple players on the list. This week, the Gophers baseball team is hosting a virtual scout week. The team is unable to host scouts on campus this fall, so instead, they’ve put together this, compiling highlights, statistics and analytics of the 2021 draft eligible players in a virtual format. The Gophers softball team added Megan Dray to its roster. Dray transferred after three years in North Carolina where she played as utility player. She’ll provide flexibility to the Gophers lineup, with experience at catcher and first base. That’s all for this week. Remember to check our website mndaily.com for all your news regarding campus and tune in again next week to get the ‘Weekly Rundown’ on all things Gopher sports. Thanks for listening.