Minnesota vs. Michigan: 10 Things We Learned from the Wolverines' Win
It's taken six weeks, but Michigan finally looks like Michigan.
After struggling with Akron and UConn, the No. 19-ranked Wolverines (5-0) decided to wake up Saturday during their 42-13 homecoming win over the Minnesota Golden Gophers (4-2) at The Big House in Ann Arbor.
Rusty in the first half, quarterback Devin Gardner's solid second-half offering helped Team 134 put up 28 points on the Gophers, who trailed 14-7 at the break. The redshirt junior was interception- and fumble-free for the first time this fall.
Sophomore tight end Devin Funchess had seven catches for 151 yards, including a 24-yard touchdown catch in the second quarter.
In the middle of his third year as head coach of Michigan, Brady Hoke can now rest assured knowing that his perfect home record remains intact at 18-0.
The Wolverines haven't lost to Minnesota since 2005 and have won 22 of the past 23 battles for the Little Brown Jug.
Michigan's Run D Passed First Test
Michigan has faced decent running attacks thus far but nothing like what Minnesota brought to the table Saturday.
Entering the game, David Cobb and Rodrick Williams Jr. each averaged 5.8 yards per carry. They were held to a total of 55 yards and kept out of the end zone by a Michigan defense looking to make a statement.
Putting a lid on the Gophers backfield, which also received help from Donnell Kirkwood, was priority No. 1 for the Wolverines, who entered Week 6 giving up just 79 yards per game. Minnesota rushed for 136 yards but lacked knockout-punch power.
Defensive coordinator Greg Mattison should be proud of the efforts of linebacker Desmond Morgan and defensive tackle Jibreel Black.
The "bend but don't break" philosophy definitely applies here. Michigan's rush defense is good, and it's only going to get better once linebacker Jake Ryan returns to action.
Taylor Lewan Can Do It All
Maybe Taylor Lewan will line up in the backfield next week against Penn State.
After all, he is a versatile athlete. Maybe not athletic enough to run the ball, he certainly possesses the skill to block as a right tight end, which he did during a handful of running plays Saturday.
Way over on the other side of the line, Lewan looked comfortable at his "new" position. Michigan's offense needed something like that. The lack of energy has been a lingering issue since Week 2. Spicing it up with Lewan could kick-start more creativity from offensive coordinator Al Borges, who's been blasted by fans for the past two weeks.
Michigan Showed Poise
The Wolverines showed discipline against the Gophers. Entering the game, Michigan averaged about 48 penalty yards per game. Saturday, Team 134 was penalized just twice for a total of 10 yards.
Not a bad way to start the Big Ten season, right?
Part of that success was due to the play of the offensive line, which had Chris Bryant starting at left guard next to tackle Taylor Lewan. It's a work in progress, sure. But the O-line made positive strides. The lack of penalties was a great start, but the line also did a decent job of protecting Gardner.
The defensive line was ready to strike, but it wasn't overzealous like it was in earlier weeks. Clean play and controlled chaos are the keys for Michigan.
Devin Funchess Needs More Action
Michigan fans have said this for weeks, but it's worth repeating: Devin Funchess is too good not to use on a regular basis.
The sophomore entered Saturday with just eight catches, which was a shame in the first place. At 6'5" and 235 pounds, he's a physical mismatch for just about every defensive back in the country. He abused Minnesota's secondary with a seven-catch, 151-yard tirade.
His 24-yard touchdown grab was the icing on the cake.
Get this kid the ball.
Two-Back System Is Coming
Think of Week 6 as a preview of the Wolverines rushing attack. Displayed in Week 1, the power from the backfield has been put on the backburner during the past few weeks.
That probably wasn't by design, either. Michigan couldn't run the ball to save its life. Fitz Toussaint, who ran for 78 yards and two touchdowns on Saturday, has the No. 1 job secured. But he may split carries in the coming weeks if Derrick Green continues to develop. The freshman finished with 23 yards on 10 carries.
But his two-yard touchdown emphasized the need for a two-back system. One guy will be the horse, while the other plays a supporting role. That's fine. That's the way it should be.
Offensive coordinator Al Borges finally gave Green a sliver of a chance to prove himself, which he did. It wasn't a big day, but it was enough to warrant more work.
The Big House Isn't for the Faint of Heart
Minnesota shouldn't be completely disappointed. Far better teams have fared worse at The Big House, although the score doesn't really imply as much.
The Gophers hung around until midway through the second half.
And then it was over.
Ending Hoke's 17-game win streak at The Big House would have been ideal, but it wasn't meant to be.
It's going to take an extremely talented team to knock off Michigan in Ann Arbor. Akron almost did it, but almost doesn't count. The Wolverines showed a lot of heart by the way they handled the Gophers.
Don't look for Hoke to lose at home any time soon. It just doesn't happen.
Time of Possession Means Nothing
Teams that control the ball typically have success. By virtue of possession, teams score. The more times a team gets the ball, the more likely scores become.
Or something like that, right?
Time of possession is an important stat, but it's not always the end all, be all. Saturday was a prime example of that. Michigan held the ball for 26 minutes, 12 seconds compared to Minnesota's 33:48. That's a huge discrepancy, but it doesn't take long for guys such as Blake Countess to turn an interception into six points; he intercepted Mitch Leidner in the fourth and returned it 72 yards.
Michigan can chew up the clock if need be, but it can also strike quickly and vanish without a trace.
On a side note, Countess leads Michigan with four interceptions. He's one of the nation's best in the pick department.
A Mobile QB May Be Michigan's Downfall This Year
Michigan better learn a lesson from Saturday's match with Minnesota. Because of Mitch Leidner, a mobile quarterback, the game was quite competitive in the first half.
That being said, all it'll take is a running signal-caller with a better supporting cast to take down Team 134. That team could be Northwestern, which averages 249.5 rushing yards per game and has Kain Colter running the show.
Prior to facing Ohio State on Saturday, Colter broke 100 yards once this fall and rushed for three touchdowns. He's a threat who could make life miserable for Michigan's defense on Nov. 16.
Some Things Are More Important Than Football
This slide goes in a slightly different direction than normal, but it's necessary.
If anything, Saturday's game reinforced a notion that we're all familiar with: Some things are more important than football.
Seizures have riddled head coach Jerry Kill's career at Minnesota; he's had five during or after football-related activities since 2011 and didn't travel Saturday to Ann Arbor.
Kill's position is shedding more light on a topic that many of us probably don't discuss very often. Seizures are serious.
Gophers defensive coordinator Tracy Claeys handled head duties while Kill recovered. Trying times, sure. But the Gophers have to keep on keeping on—that's the way of the college football world.
"We have been through a lot of battles together," Claeys said to reporters, via ESPN. "We are all very well trained on our jobs and our responsibilities. We miss him here as a friend. We are all pretty much used to this, and so are the kids."
Michigan Has Potential to Score 40 per Game
The Wolverines were wonderfully effective on third down Saturday, successfully converting 10 of 13 attempts—that helps in the scoring department.
Minnesota isn't a worldbeater, but it's far from a doormat. Scoring 42 on the Gophers is a respectable feat. Prior to Saturday, they hadn't surrendered more than 24 (d. San Jose State, 43-24).
Michigan probably won't convert more than 75 percent of third downs every game. But when and if that happens again, expect to see 40 points on the scoreboard.
Al Borges' offense is absolutely capable of drilling opponents. That hasn't always been the case this season, but the victory over Minnesota gave observers a look at an arsenal that could be incredibly dangerous this year.
Follow Bleacher Report's Michigan Wolverines football writer Adam Biggers on Twitter @AdamBiggers81.
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