MICHIGAN FOOTBALL 2017: WOLVERINES RUN OVER GOPHERS 33-10

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.

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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.

Go Blue!