This was the worst version of the game for the Minnesota Golden Gophers, as the Michigan Wolverines took the game right to them, forcing the Gophers defense, that has held up so long, to break.
It started with the first Wolverines drive going 83 yards on seven plays to head up 7-0. The very next Wolverines drive, running back Karan Higdon took a 77-yard run to the to the house. With his 47-yard run the first drive, the Wolverines showed they could not only run right at the Gophers, the could break away from them.
“I thought we were able to get some things going in the second half here and there, some things in the first half here and there. But there’s no consistency on offense, there’s no flow to the game,” said Minnesota head coach P.J. Fleck in a dejected post-game press conference. “Every time there is a flow, someone is getting hurt or someone is coming out. We have the sack-fumble that hurt us and two drives that started at the 50-yard line with really nice field position that we couldn’t do anything with.”
The game went exactly how the Wolverines wanted, dominating both lines of scrimmage and doing what they liked while controlling the game.
The Gophers were able to run for 54 yards in their second drive to tie it 7-7 with a 10-yard Rodney Smith run. However, the one pass on the successful drive proved to Michigan they really needed to focus on the run. After the touchdown drive, Michigan brought the heat on defense.
The Wolverines defense racked up five sacks and 13 tackles for loss in their sellout game, stopping the run game and coming after quarterback Demry Croft in the pocket. But it was not just the front seven, the entire Wolverines defense made big plays in the Gophers backfield to shut them down.
Defensive back Khaleke Hudson finished with a team leading 13 tackles, two sacks and 6.5 tackles for loss. Tyree Kinnel was another standout defensive back with five tackles and a tackle for loss. With players in the secondary having a big impact on the pass rush, the defense was able to be incredibly creative with their blitz packages and pressure attack.
“They got to us a little more in terms of the pressure they had, I thought Croft still did a really nice job, but thought he got out of the pocket maybe a little too soon in the second half,” Fleck said of the pass rush. “Part of the problem is how many 2nd-and-10s, 2nd-and-11s we are sitting in.”
The Wolverines gave Croft fairly simple coverage in the secondary, with lots of cover two and man-to-man, however, the pressure from plenty of different players and positions grounded the Gophers offense to halt. In the running game the Wolverines allowed only 90 yards on 44 attempts to the Gophers running attack, which averaged two yards per carry. The Gophers receivers share blame here as well, failing to create separation for most of the game and giving their quarterback very little to throw to in terms of looks.
On the defensive side, the best unit finally broke. After eight games of stout showings that carried the Gophers, the defense was outdone.
There were bright spots, the defense had three sacks, with linebacker Blake Cashman having the best game on defense, racking up six tackles and a sack along with a tackle for loss.
The defense also held quarterback Brandon Peters to 56 passing yards. But the Wolverines were never pressed for more passing yards, rushing for an impressive 371 yards. Running back Higdon finished with 200 yards and two score, averaging 12.5 yards per carry which marked his season high average.
Change-of-pace back Chris Evans had the best game of the season as he racked up 191 yards and two scores, averaging 14.7 yards per game. The offensive line of the Wolverines continually reached the second level of the defense to help bust out big runs for their running backs, with runs of 77, 67, 60 and 47 yards touching the Gophers defense.
“Give them credit, they had a lot of runs come spitting out, but they came out because of missed tackles,” said Fleck on his run defense. “We had a lot of missed tackles and against this team, you have one missed tackle and they are out the gate.”
Poor tackling hurt the Gophers defense, as did failure to snag a signature Gophers turnover or two that would put them back in the game. But even if they had polished both to help out the defense, it really does not change the outcome of the game much.
The offensive line of Michigan was truly dominant, taking what normal is a game changing group of linebackers out of the game and keep the ball out of a freshman quarterback’s hands. By only needing 13 passes from Peters, there was very little chance of the Gophers secondary changing the momentum of the game.
Michigan ran over the Gophers, pounding the ball and taking control of the game from the opening quarter to the last.