Originally posted on Fox Sports North  |  Last updated 11/2/12
MINNEAPOLIS After beating Purdue in convincing fashion last weekend, the University of Minnesota football team is now 5-3 and just one win from becoming bowl eligible for the first time since 2009. The Gophers have four games remaining to try and secure that sixth win, and it begins Saturday with visiting Michigan. The Wolverines are also seeking their sixth win of the year after losing on the road to Nebraska last weekend. Here are five things to watch as Michigan travels to TCF Bank Stadium. 1. Can Minnesota contain quarterback Denard Robinson? When the Wolverines have the ball, all eyes naturally turn to Robinson, Michigan's dual-threat quarterback. One of the most electrifying players in the Big Ten, Robinson is third in the conference in rushing yards per game (118.2) and second in total offense (283.1). Robinson was dinged up last weekend against Nebraska and did not return after injuring his elbow. But Michigan head coach Brady Hoke has said that Robinson will start Saturday against the Gophers in his first trip to TCF Bank Stadium. Minnesota's rushing defense has been very susceptible in Big Ten play, and it will face one of its toughest tests in Robinson. If the Gophers can slow him down, they can slow down the Michigan offense. "They do a good job trying to keep him in the box," Gophers coach Jerry Kill said of Robinson. "You go back and try to look at the film of Notre Dame. You look at people that try to defend him, try to keep him in there, try not to let him get the football, but they do a good job of finding ways to create plays in situations for him." 2. Will A.J. Barker play for the Gophers? Barker, Minnesota's top wide receiver, injured his ankle on his second touchdown of the first half last Saturday against Purdue. He did not return to the game after the touchdown, and the Gophers did not complete a pass in the second half. Barker has been held out of practice this week and did not practice through Thursday. Kill said on his weekly radio show Thursday, though, that Barker would practice Friday. Barker is officially listed as "questionable" on Minnesota's injury report. "It's certainly a concern," Kill said. After making just one catch in his first two seasons, Barker has been the leading receiver for the Gophers this year. His 30 catches for 577 yards leads all Minnesota receivers. In fact, Isaac Fruechte is second on the team with 13 catches. Barker has seven receiving touchdowns. No other Gopher has more than two. 3. This game features two of the top pass defenses in the country. Which will have the better game? Statistically speaking, Michigan's pass defense is the best in the nation. The Wolverines have allowed just 145.2 passing yards per game, the fewest of any Division I team. Through eight games, Michigan has yet to allow 200 passing yards in a game. Minnesota, meanwhile, has had a stout pass defense as well. The Gophers have allowed 159.9 yards per game, seventh-best in the nation. Minnesota also ranks eighth in the country and first in the Big Ten in pass efficiency (101.16). The Gophers haven't allowed a 200-yard passer in four Big Ten games. Can these two pass defenses continue to shut down opposing quarterbacks? Robinson isn't the biggest passing threat -- he's averaging just 164.9 passing yards per game. Gophers freshman quarterback Philip Nelson, meanwhile, will be playing just his third career game at Minnesota and will be up against the toughest defense he's faced yet. "They don't really want to give up any deep balls or anything," Nelson said. "They've got a great defensive line and a couple good D-ends and linebackers. They're an all-around great defensive team. I think that just like any game, we've got a good shot with what we do offensively to exploit some of the things they do give up." 4. Can the offensive line continue its success from last week? Minnesota has suffered several injuries this year on the offensive line. As a result, the unit has had a hard time developing chemistry as different players have rotated in and out. But the line played perhaps its best game last Saturday against Purdue. Nelson was not sacked at all and was rarely touched in the pocket. Meanwhile, running back Donnell Kirkwood picked up 134 rushing yards on 22 carries. Minnesota's 212 total rushing yards were the most since Week 2 against New Hampshire. While left tackle Ed Olson likely won't play due to an ankle injury, Kill is still optimistic about the play of his offensive line. "It's the best they've played all year," Kill said of the Purdue game. "They played with continuity and communication, and probably the most impressive thing is (center) Jon Christenson, the red shirt freshman. We were worried about the snaps and those kind of things. He did a great job of snapping the ball, as a red shirt freshman, getting us in the right scheme of what they're doing." 5. Can Minnesota break a 35-year streak? Michigan has owned the Gophers in recent years as the two teams have battled for the Little Brown Jug. The Wolverines have won 28 of the last 30 meetings against the Gophers. Minnesota's only two wins in that time came in 1986 and 2005, but both were on the road in Ann Arbor. Not since 1977 have the Gophers beaten Michigan in Minnesota. Back then, the Gophers were playing at Memorial Stadium. They've since called the Metrodome and now TCF Bank Stadium home. That win in 1977 was a big one, as it came against a top-ranked Michigan squad and ended in a 16-0 shutout. It's certainly been a while since Minnesota has beaten the Wolverines at home, and the Gophers are plenty aware of it. "Dealing with Michigan and where they're at and you look at that and say, 'What do we have to do? Where do we go? What do we do?'" Kill said. "You look from recruiting and how you operate from day to day. . . . We haven't won a Big Ten title in 45 years. If we want to do that, we've got to look at those programs and see where you're going and what you're doing." Follow Tyler Mason on Twitter.
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