With No. 18 Michigan heading to No. 21 Minnesota on Saturday, the Wolverines will be faced with a P.J. Fleck-coached team that knows how to put points up in bunches. Last season, Minnesota scored 30+ points on 10 different occasions and topped the 40-point threshold three different times, so stopping the Gophers' from moving the football should be priority No. 1 for Michigan.
Now, if the Wolverines can accomplish this task with a mostly new starting secondary is a different question, but U-M defensive coordinator Don Brown has been preparing for this matchup all offseason.
Q: The passing attack is well noted as a strength of Minnesota's squad. Rashod Bateman is a dominant receiver in his own right, but how do you think the Gophers will utilize Chris Autman-Bell on Saturday?
A: Last season, Tyler Johnson was a traditional Z receiver, but offensive coordinator Kirk Ciarrocca frequently lined him up in the slot (Y) in three wide receiver sets and split Chris Autman-Bell out at the Z spot. We don't expect Autman-Bell to be able to replicate Johnson's production, but we do expect him to play a similar role in how he will be utilized around the formations. He is an outstanding route runner, can make catches in traffic, and has shown the ability to make plays after the catch. If offensive co-coordinators Mike Sanford Jr. and Matt Simon want him to keep him at the Z, the Gophers also have a couple true freshmen wide receivers who could thrive in the slot. Both Daniel Jackson and Douglas Emilien have the potential to make some noise.
Q: With the passing attack so sharp, how does the rushing offense for Minnesota match up? Will the Gophers feature a one-dimensional offense?
A: The Gophers have a proven commodity in running back Mohamed Ibrahim, who was a bell cow in 2018 and rushed for 1,160 yards despite missing three games that season. He took a backseat last year to Rodney Smith, but he seems primed to carry the load in 2020 and is the perfect fit for Minnesota's inside zone rushing attack. And the Gophers do have unproven talent behind Ibrahim at running back, but it will really depend on whether their offensive line -- which returns all five starters -- can pick up where they left off last season. The battle for the #2 running spot is pretty open with redshirt sophomore Bryce Williams, and redshirt freshmen Cam Wiley and Trey Potts all in a battle for carries.
Q: Minnesota's offensive line is described as a unit that has excess size and experience to pair with it. What will the Gophers' blockers look like?
A: They are certainly big, and everyone likes to gawk at 6'9", 400-lb. right tackle Daniel Faalele. But even when Faalele has been sidelined, Minnesota has traded mass for mobility, shifting Blaise Andries to tackle and Conner Olson to guard and inserting John Michael Schmitz at center. Schmitz affords them more lateral mobility, which has allowed them to incorporate more outside zone into their offense. Redshirt Sophomore Curtis Dunlap Jr is another of the big guys up front, but he has been through a bit of turmoil in the offseason entering the transfer portal and then withdrawing all in about a 24 hour period in August.
Q: Are there any other aspects of Minnesota's offense that will be important to note?
A: Do not overlook the Gophers' tight ends. It's a group that goes four-deep, and all signs this offseason have pointed to them being more involved in the passing game. It's an eclectic mix of players with different skill sets who can all play a major role in moving the Gopher offense forward.
How prolific do you expect Minnesota's offense to be in 2020? Which position group should the Wolverines focus on the most? Let us know!