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Opponent Q&A: Detroit Free Press Michigan Beat Writer Mark Snyder

There is no margin of error for Northwestern as it tries to stay in contention for the Legends Division crown with three remaining games against Michigan, Michigan State and Illinois. First off, the Wolverines. As part of our usual opponent Q&A feature, Detroit Free Press Michigan football beat man Mark Snyder some of his insight on the upcoming matchup. Follow him on Twitter @mark__snyder.
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Denard Robinson was forced to sit out of Michigan's 38-13 win over Minnesota game with an ulnar-nerve injury. Backup QB/Wide receiver Devin Gardner filled in admirably, connecting on 66 percent of his passing attempts, the most by a Michigan quarterback since Robinson matched that mark against UMass earlier this season. What did Gardner do ignite an offense that had sputtered in recent weeks? Do you envision coach Brady Hoke using Robinson at wide receiver and giving Gardner the starting quarterback job for the rest of the season? Where do you (and the general Michigan fan base) fall on the matter?

MS: The level of competition played a major role in Gardner's success. Michigan State and Nebraska's defenses were far more talented than Minnesota. No, Robinson is the quarterback when he's healthy enough to play it. Whether that's this week or in the future, it's his job and Gardner will move back to receiver but also be the backup QB.

In Michigan's 23-9 loss at Nebraska two weeks ago, what did the Huskers do so effectively to stifle Michigan's offense? Why has the unit struggled to match last season's productivity?

MS: Against Nebraska Michigan moved the ball well in Denard Robinson's time, most of the first half and was poised to take the lead inside the 10 when he was injured. The offensive problem came when then backup Russell Bellomy couldn't do the job.

How did Hoke and the team deal with suffering two losses in non-conference play? In particular, what was the feeling after the Alabama loss?

MS: They dealt with the Alabama loss by admitting that Alabama is a monster team and U-M was relying on a lot of new parts that needed adjustment in a season opener. The Notre Dame loss was simply missed opportunities, a game they gave away with six turnovers. Though they still had a chance to win in the fourth quarter, almost no team can lose that many possessions and still win.

The statistical splits between the Wolverines' top receivers are pretty similar -- Devin Gardner, Jeremy Gallon and Drew Dileo have all reeled in between 10-18 catches and 200-400 yards. Describe what each wideout brings to the passing attack and how each impacts the offense in a different/similar way?

MS: Gardner is the athletic type who can fight for a ball but also run in the open field though his production has plummeted since the season's first month. Gallon is small but fast so he's used on end arounds in the run game but still athletic enough to take a short pass for big yardage. Dileo is a slot receiver best used as a third down possession guy.

Sophomore linebacker Jake Ryan has received plenty of praise on defense, and rightly so. Who have you been most impressed with on that side of the ball? Which position group -- defensive line, linebackers or secondary -- do you feel has been the most consistent this season?

Though the secondary ranks no. 1 nationally in pass defense, the linebackers have played very well in the past month, especially preventing too many big runs. Ryan is the biggest reason why, making impact plays everywhere.

What is Michigan's biggest overall strength? weakness?

MS: Biggest strength is the defense and it's ability to keep UM in every game. It hasn't allowed more than 23 points since Game 2 and most teams are 13 or lower.

The weakness is the running game. Denard Robinson has been the only consistent runner this season.

Michigan's primary offensive skill playmakers are household names for most Big Ten fans, none more famous than Denard Robinson. Who are some under-the-radar players to watch on that side of the ball? On defense?

On offense Gallon is a good player who can make impact plays. On defense the safeties, Jordan Kovacs and Thomas Gordon have played very well as Gordon has a nose for turnovers.