It did not take a lot of research and formulation to put together the Michigan football practices this week.
The Wolverines face Minnesota tonight in the Metrodome, but they've been preparing themselves against a reasonable facsimile of the Golden Gophers as far back as last spring. Since Michigan changed its offense to a zone blocking scheme, the closest thing to Minnesota is now - well, Michigan.
In an effort to give their offense a fifth gear, the Wolverines adopted the same base offense that has been Minnesota's bread and butter for years. Michigan tackle Alan Branch said practicing against the Wolverines' offense has been a dress rehearsal for this Big Ten contest.
"I feel practicing against our own guys every day gives us a better look than we had last year," Branch said.
"Last year we didn't learn the zone scheme at all and Minnesota was a great zone team. I think us going against our own team in two-a-days, continually going against the zone blocking, kind of gives us a leg up from last year against these guys."
It will be strength against strength when the two meet in the cavernous indoor facility. Minnesota has long wielded one of the Big Ten's best rushing attacks, and 2006 is no different. Michigan has the league's best run defense, by far. The Wolverines have allowed just 74 rushing yards in four games - an average of 18.5 yards per game.
The Gophers are second in the conference in rushing, averaging 226.8 rushing yards per game, and 5.1 yards per carry. Minnesota uses two new running backs: junior Amir Pinnix and sophomore Alex Daniels.
"I think they've been very, very productive," Michigan coach Lloyd Carr said. "Any time you've got two solid running backs, it's a great advantage because with the way they play, they're going to see a lot of eight or nine-man fronts. They had two great backs a year ago, and they've always seemed to have at least two."
Michigan linebacker David Harris, who has 21 solo tackles among his 26 stops this season, said the Minnesota backs give the Wolverines two contrasting looks. Pinnix is a 6-foot, 200-pounder from New Jersey who is quick and elusive. Daniels is a converted linebacker from Columbus Brookhaven who goes 6-3 and 260 pounds.
"These guys don't have the experience, but they're very, very talented," Harris said. "I think they really complement each other because one is a big guy and we know what he brings to the table. And Pinnix is a 200-pounder with great feet and he finds the hole well. I think it's a typical Minnesota team with an outstanding offensive line."
Harris said the Wolverines will need to be disciplined to rein in the Gophers.
"You just have to go out there and do your assignment every play, no matter who's in the backfield," he said. "You have to stay in your gaps; they look for the cutback lane a lot. Our offense runs a zone, so we got good looks at it all through the offseason. It prepares us a little bit for their scheme."