Home Dog Play: Michigan at Minnesota

by | Oct 23, 2020 | cfb

(17) Michigan Wolverines (0-0 SU, 0-0 ATS) v. (21) Minnesota Golden Gophers (0-0 SU, 0-0 ATS)

NCAA Football Week 8

When: Saturday, October 24 at 7:30 pm ET

Where: TCF Bank Stadium - Minneapolis, MN

Watch: ABC

Point Spread: MICH -3/MINN +3 (MyBookie - Deposit $100, get $100 FREE! Deposit $200 get $200 FREE! Deposit $300 get $300 FREE! Awesome bonus offers from an Awesome Bookie!)

Over/Under Total: 55

The Big Ten is ready to kick off their 2020 football season and one of the best matchups of the opening weekend has Michigan heading to Minnesota. College Gameday will head to Minneapolis as well, and that gives some extra juice to this contest. Michigan has many questions to answer as ten Wolverines were drafted to the NFL, and plugging all of those holes without the benefit of a cupcake non-conference schedule will test the coaching prowess of Jim Harbaugh. Minnesota lost some key pieces, but their situation is better on paper than what Michigan faces, especially with the Gophers again able to rely on QB Tanner Morgan. This is a cross-division matchup, so a loss doesn’t necessarily spell doom, but with only eight games on the schedule, every win and every week feels big.

Milton at the Helm

One of the most significant departures for Michigan was QB Shea Patterson. The veteran signal-caller threw for 22 touchdowns last season and led the offense to 33 points per game. Joe Milton is now the starting quarterback, and while his experience level is short with ten career pass attempts, his versatile skill set draws comparisons to Cam Newton and Josh Allen. Milton has rushed for two scores during his mop-up duty, and his legs may be necessary with Michigan losing WRs Donovan Peoples-Jones and Nico Collins. Three starting offensive linemen are also gone from the 2019 team, and that could leave Milton on the run against a Minnesota team that notched 30 sacks a year ago.

Ronnie Bell led the team in catches and yards last season to give Milton a true No. 1 target, but there are few proven options behind him. TE Nick Eubanks could be a favorite target as his three touchdowns receptions ranked third on the team. The running back situation is probably the most stable portion of the offense as Hassan Haskins and Zach Charbonnet both return after combining for 15 touchdowns last season. Haskins is the more dynamic back and should see the bulk of the touches as the year progresses, but Charbonnet could be called on as his downhill style might be a better fit against a Minnesota run defense that ranked 28th a year ago.

The Wolverine D

If the questions on offense take a while to answer, it will be incumbent on this defense to produce something close to last season when Michigan was 7th in total yards allowed and gave up just 19.5 points per game. The biggest departure is CB Lavert Hill, who recorded three interceptions and led the team with eight pass defenses. The secondary group is talented but largely unproven outside of the five-star Daxton Hill, who had three pass breakups and one interception in 2019. There should be no real worries on the defensive line with Kwity Pain and Aidan Hutchinson capable of landing on the Big Ten first team when all is said and done. The linebacker group is paced by Cameron McGrone, who was third in tackles last season with 2.5 sacks. Michigan’s defense was exposed by the best offenses in the conference last season, but against like competition, they held opponents to 3.1 yards per rush and allowed conversions on just 32% of third-down attempts.

Tanner Time

Quarterbacking is often the difference-maker at the college level, and Minnesota has a leg up with Tanner Morgan. The junior threw for 28 scores last season and completed 66% of his passes to lead the Gophers to 34.3 points per game. He did lose Tyler Johnson to the NFL, but Rashod Bateman announced his return, giving Morgan a proven 1,000-yard receiver. RB Rodney Smith will be missed in the backfield, but Mo Ibrahim has plenty of experience and led this team in rushing during the 2018 season. Most of the offensive line returns, and that group powered a run game that helped Minnesota rank 8th in the time of possession metric. The Gophers were also one of the best teams on third down last season, converting on 50% of attempts, good for 7th in the country. The biggest weakness appears to be pass protection as Minnesota was 75th in sacks allowed. That could spell trouble if Michigan can again be a top-25 team in QB pressures.

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The Gopher D

This defense was ranked inside of the top-30 in all yardage categories but must replace seven starters, including five of the six top tacklers from last season. The loss of S Antoine Winfield and his seven interceptions looks to leave a big hole, but the Gophers are stacked in the secondary with Benjamin St. Juste and Coney Durr combining for 20 pass defenses last year. Safety Jordan Howden is the top returning tackler, and he added six pass breakups in 2019. After giving up 30+ points in three of the first four games last season, this defense found a stride and gave up 30 just once over the final nine games, including the Outback Bowl against Auburn. That mark could prove important this week as allowing something around 30 to Michigan either means the Wolverines have a solid offense or that this Minnesota defense is behind the pace in filling their various losses.

Who is Better on Paper?

They play the game on the field, but I ask this question because both teams lost games last season where they were the lesser team on paper. Michigan lost to Wisconsin, Penn State, and Ohio State in conference play and to Alabama in the Citrus Bowl. They did look classy in a win against Notre Dame, but that was about the only time Michigan rose to the occasion. Minnesota only lost two games last season, but a relative dud against Wisconsin in the finale with the division at stake showed they are still some distance away from routinely taking down the teams that have traditionally been ahead of them. This appears to be a very close game in terms of talent and program momentum, so the team that can best move past those somewhat poor performances from last season will probably win this weekend. With slight advantages across this matchup, it is no surprise to see this one feature a skinny three-point spread.

How it Breaks

I think the lack of a typical practice schedule and non-conference season benefits Minnesota as their skill players have the most experience. Any slow start from Milton is going to have the Gophers believing they are in the driver’s seat early. I like Morgan to use the play-action game against the inexperienced back seven of Michigan, and Minnesota has ability to control the game with a strong offensive line effort and run game. That makes for an intriguing strength-on-strength matchup with that Michigan defensive line. However, Minnesota still has the Morgan-Bateman connection to fall back on if Michigan is too strong up front. I don’t think there is enough separation between these teams to get too far away from a 50-50 scenario, and that has me liking the Gophers at +3. I actually think they win this game outright as a fourth-quarter field goal puts them up 23-21, and the defense holds. That is a small upset, to be sure, but I don’t think Michigan is guaranteed to be much better than 4-3 heading into their game with OSU in December. Minnesota should roll into that week at 5-2 or 6-1, and it will have started with them showing on Saturday that they are ready to pick up where they left off laast season.

Ted Walker’s Pick to Cover the Spread: Minnesota plus the points. I’d recommend putting 15% of your bet on the money line as well. Bet your Week Eight NCAA football picks FREE by taking advantage of a massive 100% real cash bonus offer where you can deposit anywhere from $100 to $1000 and get that same amount extra credited to your wagering account at BetNow!