Michigan Football Preview 2015

2015 Michigan Football Preview

The Wolverine: Covering University of Michigan Football and Sports

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Page 134 of 163

THE WOLVERINE 2015 FOOTBALL PREVIEW ■ 133 BY RYAN TICE Jerry Kill's rebuilding job at Minnesota has been remarkable. After a 3-9 debut in 2011, he took the Golden Gophers to a bowl game the next season. They took another leap forward in his third year at the helm, going .500 in Big Ten play and 8-5 overall. They improved their conference record by a game and played in a New Year's Day bowl for the first time since 1962 last fall, while Kill was named the Big Ten Coach of the Year. The Gophers were even in contention for the Big Ten West crown in the last week of the season. Last year's squad relied on a rushing at- tack that ranked 28th nationally (215.5 yards per game) and was powered by the departed David Cobb, who gained 1,626 yards and 13 touchdowns on the ground. Replacing him will be no easy task, especially with the top two returning rushers residing at quarterback. Redshirt junior Mitch Leidner is the re- turning starter under center, although he missed one contest due to injury. He threw for 1,798 yards and 11 touchdowns against eight interceptions, while he also totaled 452 yards and 10 scores on the ground. Mean- while, redshirt sophomore Chris Streveler passed for a touchdown and an interception in his limited action, and rushed for 235 yards and a score. Seniors K.J. Maye and Roderick Wil- liams, as well as redshirt sophomore Berk- ley Edwards, return after combining for 398 yards and six touchdowns on the ground a year ago. Maye started five times and led the group with 144 rushing yards, but he is also the team's top returning receiver (298 yards on 16 catches) and has made the move to wide- out. The 229-pound Williams is the bruiser of the group and has rushed for 707 yards and eight scores during his career, but is coming off his least productive campaign. The Gophers bring back even less among their pass catchers following the loss of lead- ing receiver and starting tight end Maxx Williams. The only returning player besides Maye who hauled in double-digit passes last year was 6-3, 217-pound junior wideout Drew Wolitarsky, who tallied 106 yards on 10 receptions. The offensive line receives a boost from three returning starters, and the whole unit should benefit from this spring's switch to a no-huddle approach that is more reliant on short passes. However, the calling card of Kill's squads so far has been the defense, which finished last year in the nation's top 40 in several categories, including 15th in turnover mar- gin (+0.77 per game), 18th in pass defense (193.5 yards allowed per game) and 33rd in scoring defense (24.2 points allowed per game). Four seniors are expected to start in the secondary, led by All-Big Ten cornerbacks Briean Boddy-Calhoun and Eric Murray. Boddy-Calhoun posted five interceptions in 2014 compared to Murray's one, but was tested more; Murray has 17 passes broken up the last two years. The hope up front is fifth-year senior end Theiren Cockran can rediscover the magic from 2013, when he posted 7.5 sacks and was named second-team all-conference. He posted just four sacks and seven tackles for loss while the unit ranked ninth in the Big Ten for sacks (2.08 per game) last year. Fifth-year senior De'Vondre Campbell leads the way at linebacker after he ranked third on the team with 75 stops last season. He will be flanked by redshirt junior Jack Lynn, who logged 57 tackles, seven stops for loss and three forced fumbles. The special teams, another traditionally strong staple under Kill, could be their best yet with experience back at both spots, in- cluding last year's Big Ten Punter of the Year, senior Peter Mortell. Redshirt sopho- more Ryan Santoso has a big leg and de- buted 12 of 18 on field goals. If the defense can continue to perform like it has so far under the fifth-year coach, it might be enough for another eight-win season. It won't be easy with TCU and Colo- rado State on the non-conference slate and a date at Ohio State in crossover play, but Minnesota draws division favorites Wiscon- sin and Nebraska — both with new coaches — at home. Positive momentum could be as simple as winning a bowl game for the first time since 2004, but there is plenty more within reach for Minnesota. Notes Last year, Minnesota beat rivals Michigan and Iowa in the same season for the first time since 1967 … Redshirt sophomore running back Berkley Edwards is the younger brother of former U-M star Braylon Edwards; he rushed for 140 yards last year. ❑ Gophers Look To Take Next Step After Successful Rebuild MINNESOTA • OCT. 31 • GAME 8 2015 SCHEDULE Date Opponent 2014 Result Sept. 3 TCU L, 30-7 Sept. 12 at Colorado State — Sept. 19 Kent State — Sept. 26 Ohio — Oct. 3 at Northwestern W, 24-17 Oct. 10 at Purdue W, 39-38 Oct. 17 Nebraska W, 28-24 Oct. 31 Michigan W, 30-14 Nov. 7 at Ohio State L, 31-24 Nov. 14 at Iowa W, 51-14 Nov. 21 Illinois L, 28-24 Nov. 28 Wisconsin L, 34-24 QUICK FACTS All-Time Series: U-M leads 73-25-3 First Meeting: Minnesota 14, U-M 6 (Oct. 17, 1892, at Minneapolis) Last Meeting: Minnesota 30, U-M 14 (Sept. 27, 2014, at Ann Arbor) Head Coach: Jerry Kill, 25-26 at Minnesota (5th year) and 152-99 overall (22nd year) Off./Def. Systems: Multiple/4-3 2014 In Review: 8-5 overall, 5-3 Big Ten (T-2nd West) Final 2014 Ranking: Received votes in USA Today coaches and Associated Press Returning Starters: 14 (5 offense, 7 defense, 2 specialists) Last Bowl Appearance: 2014 (Buffalo Wild Wings Citrus, vs. Missouri, L 33-17) Big Ten Conference Championships (last): 18 (1967) RETURNING LEADERS Passing: Mitch Leidner (1,798 yards, 11 TD, 8 INT) Rushing: Mitch Leidner (452 yards, 10 TD) Receiving: K.J. Maye (298 yards, 1 TD) Tackles: De'Vondre Campbell (75) Sacks: Theiren Cockran (4) Interceptions: Briean Boddy-Calhoun (5) PLAYERS TO WATCH Offense: Mitch Leidner, R-Jr., QB — Top returning rusher and passer … Has played in 22 games and started 16 with a record of 10-6 … Has thrown for 2,417 yards and 14 touchdowns in his career, while also rushing for 17 scores. Defense: De'Vondre Campbell, 5th-Sr., LB — Former junior col- lege transfer started all 13 games after being a spot starter in 2013 … The 6-5, 241-pounder finished third on the team with 75 tackles … He also logged 6.5 tackles for loss, three fumble recoveries and an interception, which he returned for a score. Senior cornerback Briean Boddy-Calhoun earned All-Big Ten honors last season after grabbing fi ve interceptions. PHOTO COURTESY MINNESOTA ATHLETIC COMMUNICATIONS

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