The Wolverine

2014 Michigan Football Preview

The Wolverine: Covering University of Michigan Football and Sports

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186 ■ THE WOLVERINE 2014 FOOTBALL PREVIEW 5 MINNESOTA • SEPT. 27 BY RYAN TICE Minnesota head coach Jerry Kill took over in 2011 and led the Golden Gophers to a 3-9 campaign. In his second season, they returned to a bowl game for the first time since 2009 and finished 6-7. Last year, the improvements continued when the program went 8-5 and won four Big Ten contests. It marked the most overall wins for Minnesota since 2003, when the team finished 10-3 overall and 5-3 in league play. If the aerial attack — which ranked 115th nationally (148.1 yards per game) in 2013 — can get on track, the Gophers should continue making positive strides this fall. Their ground game ranked fifth in the Big Ten and 37th nationally with an average of 195.2 rushing yards per contest, but the inconsistent passing offense limited them to 25.7 points per game (11th in the league). Keeping the quarterback upright was also a problem — only two Football Bowl Subdi- vision teams allowed sacks at a higher rate than Minnesota, which did so on 9.3 percent of its drop-backs. The transfer of Philip Nelson, the Go- phers' most experienced signal-caller, after the season is a blow, but redshirt sophomore Mitch Leidner returns after he started four games. Leidner tied for the team lead with seven rushing touchdowns, ranked second in rushing yards (407), and threw for 619 yards and three touchdowns against just one inter- ception. He actually had a higher efficiency rating (131.9) and completion percentage (55.1) than Nelson, and averaged only 46.9 fewer passing yards per game. Senior running back David Cobb should pick up where he left off after breaking out with 1,202 rushing yards and seven scores a year ago. The 225-pounder ranked 27th in the nation in rushing and added 174 receiv- ing yards en route to being named the Go- phers' Most Outstanding Offensive Player. Minnesota had a bit of a rotating cast of offensive linemen last year, and a total of eight protectors who started at least three games in 2013 return. At receiver, fifth-year senior Isaac Fruechte has started 15 games over the past two years, and he totaled 32 catches for 410 yards. Fellow returners Drew Wolitarsky, Donovahn Jones and K.J. Maye have combined to start a handful of games out wide, but the threesome has just 43 ca- reer receptions combined. Redshirt sophomore tight end Maxx Williams actually paced the squad with 25 catches for 417 yards and five touchdowns last year, and he should build on that promis- ing debut. Cobb ranks next among returning players for 2013 catches (17), but Wilitarsky, a sophomore, gained 259 yards through the air to rank third on the squad. The defense ranked among the Big Ten's top eight and the nation's top 54 in all four major categories, led by its scoring defense — which checked in at fourth in the league and 25th in the land, allowing an average of just 22.2 points per game. Six starters return to the unit, led by three defensive linemen. Defensive tackle Re'Shede Hageman will be hard to replace, but redshirt junior defensive end Theiren Cockran is back after he paced the squad with 7.5 sacks and ranked second with 10 tackles for loss. Two starting defensive backs return, led by 2013 top tackler Cedric Thompson, a senior safety who notched 79 stops, and Eric Murray, a junior cornerback who defended a team-best 10 passes. Junior safety Antonio Johnson also opened six games and finished fourth with 69 stops last year. The middle of the defense is where the Gophers will suffer the most turnover. For- mer junior college transfer Damien Wilson had a nice debut in the middle with 78 tack- les, including 5.5 for loss, but there is a major lack of experience surrounding him. If Leidner gives the team a more con- sistent quarterback presence than the two- headed approach last year and a receiver emerges, the Gophers should take another step forward. However, it might not neces- sarily show on the final record — they must travel to TCU in non-conference play, and also draw Michigan and Ohio State in cross- division league play. Notes Junior punter Peter Mortell recorded the third-best mark in school history when he aver- aged 43.3 yards per attempt last season … Red- shirt freshman running back Berkley Edwards, younger brother of former U-M star Braylon Ed- wards, looks ready to contribute after he scored the only touchdown of the spring game on a 33-yard scamper. ❑ Passing Offense Must Make Strides For Golden Gophers To Take The Next Step 2014 SCHEDULE Date Opponent 2013 Result Aug. 28 Eastern Illinois — Sept. 6 Middle Tennessee — Sept. 13 at TCU — Sept. 20 San Jose State W, 43-24 Sept. 27 at Michigan L, 42-13 Oct. 11 Northwestern W, 20-17 Oct. 18 Purdue — Oct. 25 at Illinois — Nov. 8 Iowa L, 23-7 Nov. 15 Ohio State — Nov. 22 at Nebraska W, 34-23 Nov. 29 at Wisconsin L, 20-7 QUICK FACTS All-Time Series: U-M leads 73-24-3 First Meeting: Minnesota 14, U-M 6 (Oct. 17, 1892, at Minneapolis) Last Meeting: U-M 42, Minnesota 13 (Oct. 5, 2013, at Ann Arbor) Head Coach: Jerry Kill, 17-21 at Minnesota (4th year) and 144-94 overall (21st year) Off./Def. Systems: Multiple/4-3 2013 in Review: 8-5 overall, 4-4 Big Ten (4th Legends Division) Final 2013 Ranking: Unranked Returning Starters: 11 (4 offense, 6 defense, 1 specialist) Last Bowl Appearance: 2013 (Texas, vs. Syracuse, L 21-17) Big Ten Conference Championships (last): 18 (1967) RETURNING LEADERS Passing: Mitch Leidner (619 yards, 3 TD, 1 INT) Rushing: David Cobb (1,202 yards, 7 TD) Receiving: Maxx Williams (417 yards, 5 TD) Tackles: Cedric Thompson (79) Sacks: Theiren Cockran (7.5) Interceptions: Four players tied with 1 PLAYERS TO WATCH Offense: David Cobb, Sr., RB — The Killeen, Texas, native burst onto the scene with 1,202 rushing yards and seven touchdowns last year (he had 11 career rushes before that) … Was the first Gopher back to reach the 1,000-yard mark since 2006 … Minnesota went 5-1 when he rushed for at least 100 yards last season. Defense: Theiren Co ck ran, R-Jr., DE — Also enjoyed a break- out campaign and led the team with 7.5 sacks while totaling 10 tackles for loss, which ranked sec- ond … Started all 13 games and finished with 30 tackles, four forced fumbles, two passes broken up and a fumble recovery. Redshirt sophomore tight end Maxx Williams led the Gophers with 25 catches for 417 yards and five touchdowns last year. PHOTO COURTESY MINNESOTA ATHLETIC COMMUNICATIONS 182-193.Opponents.indd 186 6/19/14 1:11 PM

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