ANN ARBOR, Mich. – Devin Gardner has turned the ball over seven times in two games, making Michigan vulnerable to being upset.
"Sometimes I try to do too much," the quarterback acknowledged.
Minnesota (4-1, 0-1 Big Ten) hopes to help Gardner continue the trend when it travels to play the 19th-ranked Wolverines (4-0) in their conference opener Saturday.
"I think he panics a lot," Golden Gophers safety Cedric Thompson said.
With 10 turnovers this season, including five interceptions in the last two games, Gardner knows he has a lot of critics. And, he doesn't blame them for finding faults with his game lately.
"When you play as bad as I've played, you kind of deserve it," Gardner said.
Michigan plans to help Gardner by taking some of the burden off him to make big plays with a running game that doesn't include him being a primary ball carrier. Wolverines coach Brady Hoke is expected to shake up his inexperienced, interior offensive line by benching center Jack Miller, shifting Graham Glasgow from left guard to center and putting Chris Bryant in Glasgow's spot.
"We have to get some runs going," Wolverines offensive tackle Michael Schofield said. "Get out of the third-and-long situations, so we don't have to put so much pressure on Devin."
Here are five things to watch:
RUNNING RBS: Hoke is determined to restore the program's ability to simply hand off the football to running backs for the first time in his two-plus years as coach. Behind a new-look offensive line, Fitzgerald Toussaint will get the first chance to move the ball on the ground. Toussaint probably will share the load earlier and more often than he has so far this year. Freshmen running backs Derrick Green and De'Veon Smith are expected to rotate into the game to keep Toussaint fresh and to give defenses a different look out of the Wolverines' backfield.
RUNNING QBS: Minnesota, meanwhile, wants both of its quarterbacks to be a threat to run in its option scheme. In four nonconference wins, Philip Nelson and Mitch Leidner helped the Gophers average 282 yards rushing. In a 23-7 loss to Iowa, Nelson lost 18 yards rushing. He ran for more than 200 yards over the first two games, wins against UNLV and at New Mexico State. Nelson said the Hawkeyes did a good job of holding gaps at the line to let their linebackers make tackles. "That kind of killed a lot of our run game right off the bat, and you've got to be able to run the ball to be able to do anything else," said Nelson, who is expected to start.
TITLE QUEST: Michigan, college football's winningest team, hasn't earned a Big Ten championship since 2004. The Wolverines can't end the dry spell by beating Minnesota, but they can't afford to lose a game they're expected to win easily. "That first step is a big step here at home for homecoming," Hoke said. "The Brown Jug is a part of it."
THE JUG: The Wolverines and Gophers have played for the Little Brown Jug since 1909, making it the oldest trophy game in major college football. Minnesota has had the retired water jug only once since 1986, winning in 2005 at the Big House, where the Gophers stormed across the field to snatch it when the game was over. "You don't want them to come over to your sideline and take it back," Hoke said.
MUTUAL RESPECT: Hoke raves about Minnesota's Jerry Kill, as a coach and person, perhaps more than any of his other peers. They coached against each other in the Mid-American Conference when Hoke was at Ball State and Kill was leading Northern Illinois. "I've got as much respect for Jerry Kill as anybody in this conference because of how he coaches and what he's done with the programs that he's done a tremendous job with," Hoke said.
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