Little brown jug at stake

Michigan could view Saturday's home game against Big Ten bottom-dweller Minnesota as a tuneup before the season's stretch run.

The 19th-ranked Wolverines (6-2, 4-0), however, have already learned the difficult lesson of what can happen to teams that look ahead in their schedule.

Oddsmakers from have made Michigan -23.5 point spread favorites (View College Football odds) for Saturday's game (Game Matchup). Current public betting information shows that 55% of bets for this game have been placed on Michigan -23.5 (View College Football bet percentages).

Michigan opened the season with a shocking loss to the Football Championship Subdivision's Appalachian State, followed by a defeat to Oregon - both coming at home. The Wolverines, who were ranked No. 5 in the preseason, stayed out of the top 25 until last week.

They have now won six straight, including a 27-17 victory over Illinois last Saturday in which they overcame an early 14-3 deficit.

While Michigan has been able to overcome its frustrating start, injuries could pose a big concern during a final stretch of the season which includes road games against Michigan State and Wisconsin, as well as a season-ending matchup against top-ranked Ohio State in Ann Arbor.

Starting quarterback Chad Henne and top running back Mike Hart are both questionable due to injuries heading into this weekend's game against the Golden Gophers (1-7, 0-4).

Hart missed last Saturday's win with a right ankle injury suffered the previous week in a win over Purdue. Henne, who hurt his hand during the first quarter of the Illinois contest, left the game twice before returning during the final quarter.

Freshman quarterback Ryan Mallett and sophomore backup running back Carlos Brown should be ready if needed by coach Lloyd Carr, who uses the phrase "the expectation is for the position" to motivate his players to step up when needed.

"It speaks to the issue that every guy's responsible for preparing and developing himself," Carr said. "You're always trying to sell that idea because on any football team, you're going to have guys that are second team, third team and guys that are not on the depth chart.

"That to me is one of the ways you give hope to a player because what you're trying to tell him as a coach is, 'You're going to get an opportunity here.'"

Brown took advantage of his opportunity last week starting in place of Hart, who ranks third in the country with 154.0 rushing yards per game. Brown set career highs with 25 carries and 113 rushing yards.

Mallett, on the other hand, struggled in relief of Henne, going 2-for-6 for 16 yards with an interception.

"He's like most freshmen," Carr said of Mallett. "He has made some progress, and he's got a lot of things that he needs to improve on."

If Henne is able to play, he will look to break John Navarre's career passing yards record at Michigan. Henne needs 219 yards to tie Navarre, and could have a good chance at doing so against a Gophers team that has the nation's worst defense.

Minnesota has lost six straight, including an embarrassing 27-21 defeat to FCS school North Dakota State on Saturday. The Gophers allowed 394 yards on the ground as they were officially eliminated from bowl consideration for the first time since 2001.

"We have to get better, without question, and we'll do that," first-year coach Tim Brewster said. "We're recruiting very hard."

Minnesota has also had to deal with a variety of injuries, including the latest to Jay Thomas, who became the third tailback to go down this season after he hurt his knee Saturday.

Five starting defensive players are also injured, further hampering a unit allowing 533.3 yards per game.

"When you win, the hurts don't hurt as much," Golden Gophers quarterback Adam Weber said. "When you start losing, they come one after another."

Michigan has won 26 of the last 28 meetings against Minnesota. The Gophers' two wins in that span have both come in Ann Arbor, though, including a 23-20 victory in 2005 - their last trip there.

by: Staff Writers - Email Us

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