Those pesky rodents from Minnesota-oops-also known as the University of Minnesota’s Golden Gophers, gnawed-oops-clawed-oops-breezed into Ann Arbor to confront the elements and Wolverines to secure a football win, and take possession of the famous Little Brown Jug.
THE FIRST COLLEGE FOOTBALL TROPHY IS BACK IN ANN ARBOR: College football’s first football trophy, the venerable 30-cent, putty colored jug, has gained remarkable renown. It has been mentioned in movies, its name has been used to identify restaurants, and other-wise has shown up in print in newspapers, magazines, and other media over many years.
Lost for a while in the 1920s, a duplicate jug was purchased by the athletic department, and stood in the Wolverine’s place of honor instead of the real McCoy for a while. Recovered from a weed patch, the actual famous jug has come again into the possession of the game’s winner annually.
In 1903, the Wolverines were to battle the Gophers there. According to M records the Wolverines had won 28 straight. A good Gophers team managed a 6-6 tie against the Michigan juggernaut of that time, and they were proud of it.
The Wolverines, in their haste to return to Ann Arbor, left without their jug.
As M suspected prior to the game that Gopher “gamesmanship” might mess with the contents of their water jug, the Wolverines had obtained their own jug for safe supply.
The Gophers AD would not return the left behind jug, and challenged the Wolverines to win it back. The Gophers painted the score of the 1903 six to six tie on the jug. An enduring legend of college football was thus initiated.
WOLVERINES NOW LEAD SERIES: The Wolverines now lead the series 75-25-3, and are 72-23-2 in Little Brown Jug games. Saturday’s game was the 96th meeting for the Jug.
The Wolverines do not lose often in this scrap, but believe me, it is very painful when they do. Very painful. In 2014, they lost 14-3, in 2005, 20 to 23, and in 1986, 17 to 20.
THIS YEAR’S EDITION OF THE GOPHERS: The Golden Gophers are now 6-3 overall and 3-3 in the Big Ten under first year Coach PJ Fleck. The personable Coach Fleck was Head Coach at Western Michigan University last season. The Broncos were sensational under Fleck’s tutelage, and he was beloved there.
A little polish was knocked off his image for Bronco fans, when he opted to become the Gopher leader for this season. Western had a motto: ROW THE BOAT, that he initiated while there for his successful Bronco teams. He took it to Minnesota, and it is a Gopher mantra today.
Fleck and Harbaugh have both been both college and pro football coaches.
The Gophers have several decent running backs, headed by Rodney Smith, and they favor the run. Smith had produced 1,158 yards this year before Saturday. To say Tyler Johnson is a talented receiver borders on understatement. He had 31 receptions prior to Saturday this season, and 7 TDs.
The Gophers have a robust defense. Prior to the Wolverines, they had allowed only 150 points for their eight games.
Marion Barber is a hallowed name in Gopher football. He was a great back at Minnesota and in the pros. Later John and Thomas Barber became Gophers football players, too.
At present, Tom Barber is a key to their stalwart defense, the best of which might be the Gopher linebackers. He had caused two forced fumbles, two fumble recoveries, and an interception and led the B1G, and the country in solo tackles before facing the Blue this year. He had 75 tackles this season, 50 of which were solo. Barber played well against the Wolverines Saturday, and the Gophers came out hitting, but to no avail. Saturday, Barber had 7 solo tackles in a losing cause, largely because the Wolverines were at their best offensively and defensively Saturday night.
At QB for the Gophers, Conor Rhoda and Denny Croft split time this season. Croft did the heavy lifting again the Wolverines Saturday, and was sacked five times. In a 34-37 win for the Spartans, Croft threw three 4th quarter TDs to Johnson to almost nail the Green Meanies. That was impressive. But he could not replicate that feat against the Wolverines’ defensive effort Saturday night.
M’s DEFENSE WAS ROCK SOLID, AND WAS LED BY VIPER KALEKE HUDSON: Hudson is credited with 11 solos tackles, and 2 assists for a total of thirteen tackles. He also had six-point five tackles for loss, and produced two sacks. He was all over the field as he played a great game, leading the rest of the defense. The defense allowed a Golden Gopher TD in the first quarter, and a field goal in the fourth quarter, and that was it. The GG’s had 128 yards of offense in the first half, and ninety-five in the second.
Freshman Aubrey Solomon started at the nose for the second time.
M’s Josh Metellus was ejected as a squall broke out in the scrum later in the game. He was ejected for allegedly fighting.
PETERS GETS HIS FIRST MICHIGAN START: Brandon Peters had a good game, in a game which featured the Michigan’s suddenly blossoming running game. Peters was 8 of 13 passing for 68-yards, with no interceptions, and a TD. His early pass completions set the stage for the running game, despite the fact he was sacked three times.
Peters was in complete control of the offense. He was poised and executed his job perfectly. Harbaugh said later that he wished that Peters could have had more passing attempts. With the long runs by Evans and Higdon, the number of snaps for the Wolverines were fewer than usual.
KARAN HIGDON MAKING A NAME FOR HIMSELF: Two hundred-yard games are as scarce as hen’s teeth for running backs, and Karan has produced two in a row. He is the first back since Mike Hart to have multiple 200-yard games in a season. That was in 2004. He is climbing the ladder of great Michigan running backs. His first quarter 77-yard TD streak was the Wolverines’ longest of the season, and he ran for another.
While Higdon had a fabulous game on the ground, he was not the Lone Ranger for the Blue in the running game, this game. Chis Evans piled up 191-yards and 2 TDs, with a long of 67-yards for a TD and another 60-yard TD run.
Karan averaged 12.5-yards and Chris averaged 14.7-yards a carry.
THE MUCH-MALIGNED OFFENSIVE LINE HAD A STRONG PERFORMANCE: In many of the games this year, these articles have bashed the performance of the offense line, and not without reason.
Today that is in the past, as they performed very well. For the most part, they were a well-oiled machine in the running game, even if they did give up three sacks.
With a newcomer, Cesar Ruiz, at right guard in replacement of the dinged Michael Onwneu, they supported three hundred and one yards on the ground. Post-game, Karan Higdon again mentioned the OLs effort and effectiveness. Saturday night they earned kudos. Helmet stickers for all? Maybe.
M FANS DESERVE ACCOLADES FOR BRAVING ADVERSE WEATHER CONDITIONS TO SUPPORT THE WOLVERINES: The pregame inconveniences and weather threats for fans were numerous. There was heavy rain, with major league thunder, and lightning. Because of the rain, and vagrant electricity, M officials could not open the stadium at the expected time.
Fans were milling in the street, or huddled back in their cars or other shelters, but many were on the street enduring the elements. Loudspeakers warned them to take shelter, but convenient shelter outside of cars did not seem readily available. Fortunately, the lightning did not nail anyone.
There was conversation in the press box as to whether many of fans would show up after the all clear. We speculated that it might prove to be the end of the 100,000-attendance record.
It was speculated that maybe 75,000 would show up at most. At first the field and stands were harboring only light patches reflecting off patches of water.
The on-field water patches were squeegeed away, and soon a trickle of fans began to come down the aisles. More and more of them poured in, and soon it was a flood of fans. The roar of the over 111,000 could be heard during this later than scheduled night game. A surprising number endured the uninviting weather to the end.
All the fans who persevered deserve helmet stickers! Well done!
HOW THEY SCORED:
The Wolverines struck first early in the first quarter on a Peters TD pass to Sean McKeon. Karan Higdon had a 47-yard run in the drive. M-7, G-0
Minnesota had a 10 play, 75-yard TD drive, scoring on a ten- yard run by RB Rodney Smith, and it was 7-up.
The Wolverines responded with a lightning strike by Karan Higdon for 77-yards to complete a two-play drive, and suddenly the Wolverines led 14-7. It was as nice a run as one can ever want to see. The Wolverines answered the Gopher score with a barn burner.
In the second quarter, Karan produced 13-yards on 2 carries, while Chris Evans did the heavy lifting with an 18-yard run, and a 60-yard TD to make it 20-7. This was a four-play 91-yard drive, and it ended the scoring for the first half.
Michigan was in total control of the game. So much for red zone woes. The Wolverines accumulated 312-yards to the Golden Gophers’ 66-yards.
The Higdon/Evans show continued in the second half, with Karan rushing for 15, and Evans for 8-yards. Karan got 7 more. Peters hit a 10-yard strike which was caught by Donovan Peoples-Jones. Higdon ran for a 5-yard TD to complete a 9-play, 46-yard drive. The Wolverines now had the game totally in hand, and were dominate, at 27-7.
Chris Evans put the frosting on the cake with M’s final score. He ran 67-yards for a TD to make 33-7. His attempt at a two- point conversion failed.
The Gophers completed their scoring with a field goal to make the final 33-10.
TAKE AWAY: The Wolverines are improving in all respects, but with Maryland (away), Wisconsin (away), and the Buckeyes (home) they need to win, win, and win to make this a more memorable season.
The Wolverines returned home to Ann Arbor Saturday afternoon to host the Rutgers Scarlet Knights. Alumni and fans celebrated Homecoming, and the Blast From The Past on a windy, chilly football Saturday.
Before Saturday, the Scarlet Knights were the proud owners of victories in their last two of three games, while the Wolverines had lost two of three.
Beating Purdue and Illinois was quite an accomplishment for a Rutgers team that had been struggling for wins under Head Coach Chris Ash. They nailed Illinois and then Purdue. Nailing Purdue was an especially good win for them, while the Illinois win was necessary for residency above the bottom of the Big Ten football barrel.
The Boilermakers produced over 472-yards of offense to Rutgers paltry 217, but two turnovers and red zone woes killed their chances of a win against a lesser team. On the other side of the ledger, as good as the win over Purdue was, an earlier Rutgers loss to Eastern Michigan seems bad.
The fact that M won 78-0 last year was immaterial. Wins are never automatic, and everyone in the Big Ten can mount a challenge. That score was source of pride for the Wolverines last year, but it is a regrouping focal point for the Knights this year. They even had T-shirts showing the score. But it was all to no avail for the Scarlet Knights, as an effective Brandon Peters replaced the struggling Jon O’Korn at QB and engineered the win.
PETERS’ TAKEOVER AT QB PROVED PROVEDENTIAL FOR THE WOLVERINES’ FORTUNES ON SATURDAY: Despite guiding an 80-yard, 13 play drive for an early second quarter TD, the mistake plagued John O’ Korn struggled through the first quarter, and into the second. He threw an interception and muffed a snap twice. While the Wolverines covered the fumbles, they obviously destroyed drives, and wasted downs. Interceptions speak for themselves.
While John was decent in the Purdue game, he threw game ending interceptions against MSU in the monsoon.
That the offense was ineffective against Penn State was not all O’Korn, who endured seven sacks. It was a team loss with the defense struggling mightily too. Still the passing game wasn’t working. and that is supposed to be a QBs forte.
Watching the first quarter, in which the Wolverines were scoreless, it appeared John was regressing against the Knights.
He did lead a scoring drive mentioned above 80-yards in 13 plays and contributed a 15-yard run in the series. Kahlid Hill finished from the one, and the Wolverines had a 7-zip lead, but M couldn’t protect the lead and needed more. They did not get more until Brandon Peters took over the offense.
John’s interception, and the two fumbled snaps, brought Peters into the game. This was about when everybody expected Peters to be inserted for a few plays or a series. Harbaugh said after the game, that they knew Monday Peters was going to play.
Brandon entered the game in mid second quarter, and the Wolverine’s offense rejuvenated. They scored on the next three series. With a bevy of short pass completions, the running game began to work better. The seemingly rough-cut-offense began to smooth out. Many of the passes were catchable and were caught. Not all of Peters’ passes were great, as a few were not on target, but he hit receivers regularly, and had no interceptions. The chains moved. He was 10 of 14 for 124 net yards, a TD, and he pitched a long throw of 20-yards.
Coach Harbaugh said after the game, with a smile, that a bird has left the nest.
SCARLET KNITGHTS HAD SOME TALENT AND THE SAME BIG TEN RECORD AS THE WOLVERINES BEFORE SATURDAY’S GAME:
The Scarlet Knights had a trio of running backs, the most productive of which is usually Gus Edwards. The Wolverines held him to 34 net yards on Saturday, but he did get a short TD.
Saturday their most effective runner was Janarion Grant. The returner/receiver/tailback showed his stuff again, as he has in prior years. He had five carries for 71-net yards, but one of those was a 65-yard streak for a TD. He makes a habit of that kind of play.
The Rutgers QB, Giviani Resigno hails from Michigan, and is more adept at running then passing. He started in two prior games before entering Michigan Stadium.
Michigan’s defense held up well against him, and the other Rutgers threats in general. They were held to 94 net yards rushing on 31 carries. 65-yards of the 94 were the result of Janarion’s long run. They were held to 101-net yards passing, as they completed 8 of 16. Meanwhile, the Wolverines amassed 334-yards rushing and 137-yards passing.
HARBAUGH HAD BEEN UNDER FIRE FROM SOME DISGRUNTLED FANS AND SOME OF THE NATIONAL MEDIA THAT HELPED BUILD HIM UP: Coach Harbaugh will not wilt under the stain, and he is not in any kind of a hot seat, nor is he leaving in the foreseeable future.
He is not ranting and raving and tossing blame around willy-nilly for the PSU team loss, or other woes. I am sure that he is discreetly assigning some well-deserved blame to both players and coaches, when and where deserved. The Wolverines did what they always do after a loss under Harbaugh. They went back to work. This time though, there seemed to be a lot more work to be done. A great deal of it seemed to have been accomplished for Rutgers Saturday, but not all.
To the disappointment of a growing group of fans, he had not been throwing any mud at the quarterback wall. He had solidly supported his starting QB, John O’Korn.
Before the game, many fans certainly hoped that Brandon Peters would at least get a few quality snaps or more against the Knights, even if he did not start.
Surprisingly, he played for much of the second quarter and earned the whole second half. He has surely earned the start next week.
While there will undoubtedly be some controversy as to why he did not take over sooner, there is no cloud in my mind. To me, the time was ripe, and the time was right.
M’s offense had fallen to 10th in the Big Ten in points scored in games this season prior to Rutgers. They also lagged in most other offensive categories. It’s was not just O’Korn. Receivers did not break open, and catchable passes were dropped at critical times. Backs have not blocked well in pass pro at times.
The nature of the quarterback position is that it is at the center of the offensive storm that occurs when an offense is not playing well. A play action team prospers when there is both a robust passing game and running game. It’s hard to have one without the other.
PETERS AND THE OFFENSE DIDN’T WIN IT ALONE: The Michigan defense showed up. With the exception of about four plays, they were absolutely outstanding. They had 11 TFLs for thirty-nine yards in losses. They had 5 sacks. They allowed Rutgers 11-yards in the first quarter and only 17 fourth quarter yards. Mo Hurst had M’s first sack on the first snap of the game to set the tone.
LB Devin Bush led the group with 3 solo tackles and 8 assisted tackles for a total of 11. Mo Hurst had 2 and 6 for a total of 8. Viper Kaleke Hudson had 4 and 1 for 5.
DE Rashan Gary regretted afterwards that he did not flatten as many of the Knights as he would have liked to, but he provided great pressure that drove them into other Wolverine hands.
DE Chase Winovich had three sacks, and one was spectacular. One of his sacks flattened the Rutgers QB, who then was fortunate enough to recover his own fumble.
THE SCORING: The scoring started in the 2nd quarter as the first quarter was barren.
The Wolverines opened the scoring on a one-yard TD plunge by Kahlid Hill, and the Wolverines were in the lead 7 zip.
This 13-play drive engineered by O’Korn, covered 80-yards with O’Korn contributing a run, and the rest of the running game was working, but after that offensive production lapsed.
In the second quarter, Rutgers’ Janarion Grant ran in a 65-yard TD for a 7-7 tie. The run completed a three play 75-yard drive.
After this score, Brandon Peters was taking snaps as the Wolverines quarterback. The Wolverines pulled ahead with Karan Higdon providing runs of 8 and 12, and then producing a 10-yard TD. Ty Isaac had a good 6-yard run in that drive too. Before that score, Wheatley had caught a nifty Peters 15-yard pass. M-14, R-7.
Peters than provided a flawless two-minute drill to close the second quarter, and half. Higdon ran for 3 and 4-yards. Peters hit Gentry for 12-yards, and Isaac ran for 10-yards. Then it was an Evans catch and scamper for twenty yards-and six. If you blinked you likely missed it. The half ended 21-7.
Early in the third quarter, Higdon was at it again, rushing for 32-yards. Kareem Walker pushed for 5-yards and the TD. M-28, R-7. This was a 4-play, 54-yard drive.
Rutgers answered on a 2-yard Gus Edwards TD run. This ran the score to M-28, R-14.
Karan Higdon produced a 2-play, 51-yard drive for a score with runs of 12, and 49-yards. The beautiful 49-yard TD capped the scoring, and produced the final score of 35-14.
A TOAST TO THE RUNNING BACKS AND OFFENSIVE LINE: The backs benefitted from better OL play.
Karan Higdon was at his best, toting 18 times for 158-net yards, and two TDs with a long of 49-yards. Ty Isaac had a good game too, carrying 14-times for 109 net yards with a long of 21. Kareem Walker ran hard 6 times for 34-yards, and his first collegiate TD, with a long of 13. All this did not happen without the OL blocking better in the running game, and some good running performances.
SOME TAKEAWAY: The insertion of Peters into the line-up provided an offensive spark that has been missing for some time. He is not a cure all. He will face challenges as a starter that he has not had to handle yet. Tougher circumstances, and rougher, tougher, opponents.
Things will get tougher than in this game as the season progresses. Pass rushes, better defenders, higher stakes. Everything. His performance Saturday showed poise and talent, and provided a very promising lift for his team. He throws a nice ball with accuracy.
It should be fun to watch him develop over the rest of the season, if that is in his future, and it now appears that might happen. He will have to continue to compete with the rest of the quarterback roster. His job has just begun.