The Michigan Wolverines are averaging 34.4 points per game. They have given up a TOTAL of 30 points all season.
That in a nutshell is the level of opponent that the Gophers will face Saturday night when the second-ranked Wolverines visit Huntington Bank Stadium in a Big Ten matchup for the Little Brown Jug. Because of those gaudy figures and the athletes behind them, Gophers coach P.J. Fleck puts Michigan in some elite company.
"We've played some really good teams since I've been here,'' said Fleck, who's in his seventh season at Minnesota. "They are one of the best.''
The Wolverines (5-0, 2-0 Big Ten) are the two-time defending conference champions and are on track to make their third consecutive appearance in the College Football Playoff. They boast a quarterback in J.J. McCarthy who's completing 79% of his passes, a running back in Blake Corum who's tied for the national lead with nine touchdowns and a defense that's allowed only three TDs and just five opponent red-zone visits through five games.
"It doesn't matter who is in that football game [for Michigan], it just seems like they're always fresh because they have so many great players,'' Fleck said. "They do such a great job rotating them. And they all make plays.''
The Gophers (3-2, 1-1) enter the game coming off a 35-24 win over Louisiana in which they posted a season high in points and put together a second-half defensive effort that limited the Ragin' Cajuns to three first downs. They face a much more well-rounded offensive team in Michigan, and to compete the Gophers will need all three facets working efficiently.
"One thing we have to continue to work on is being cohesive, playing complementary football,'' Fleck said. "When we have success, we're really good at that.''
Much of Minnesota's success starts with its running game, which will be challenged by a Michigan defense that allows 85.6 yards per game on the ground, second fewest in the Big Ten.
Gophers true freshman Darius Taylor leads the nation in rushing yards per game (133.0) but missed the game against Louisiana after suffering a leg injury late in the loss at Northwestern. In stepped redshirt freshman Zach Evans, who rushed 15 times for 85 yards and a touchdown in his first extensive game time as a Gopher. Evans' performance earned Big Ten freshman of the week honors, an award Taylor won the previous three weeks.
Evans was part of a backfield committee including Bryce Williams that he helped the Gophers rush 51 times for 201 yards. While Athan Kaliakmanis passed only 14 times, he hit on 12 of his throws at 12.2 yards per completion with two touchdowns.
Kaliakmanis has rebounded well from a rough game at North Carolina by stringing together two solid efforts. He completed his first nine passes and went 14-for-19 for 153 yards and two TDs at Northwestern. His completion percentage in the past two games is 78.8% after he started the season at 51.1%.
"We've got to keep it really balanced on offense and distribute the ball to the best playmakers but also keep it where we can have a high completion percentage and be efficient in the pass game,'' Fleck said.
When the Gophers offense runs efficiently, it tends to hold the ball for long stretches, which helps the Minnesota defense by keeping the opposing offense on the sideline. Through five games, the Gophers rank 14th nationally with an average time of possession of 32 minutes, 34 seconds. Michigan is good at playing keep-away, too. In their 45-7 win at Nebraska on Saturday, the Wolverines had the ball for 38:01.
While Fleck joked that he might need to find a way to put 13 players on the field when facing the Michigan defense, he also let it be known that he's not conceding anything to the Wolverines.
"You go back to 2019, and we play a top four team in the country, and not many people gave us a shot in that one, either,'' he said of the Gophers' 31-26 win over Penn State. "I know we're a different team and it's a different year, but I don't think we were favored in that one or the Auburn game [a 31-24 Gophers win in the Outback Bowl].''