Michigan vs Minnesota Football — Looking Back – 2015

Looking Back is a Special Feature by Jeff Cummins Highlighting Key Rivalry Games

For the fifth and final installment of the series looking back at the Little Brown Jug rivalry, we go back to 2015, for the signature game of the series, at least in recent memory. Michigan alum Jim Harbaugh had just arrived months earlier, and his team was still finding its footing. Minnesota entered the game with Tracy Claeys serving as interim coach, due to health issues suffered by coach Jerry Kill. With the Wolverines in their white road pants and the Golden Gophers sporting gray jerseys and pants, the scene was set for a game unlike any other in the series.

Michigan started well, as the defense forced a fumble and Jabrill Peppers returned the ensuing kickoff to the Michigan 42 yard line, sparking a drive that led to a 1-yard touchdown run by Joe Kerridge. Peppers later added a 41-yard punt return, which led to a 14-yard touchdown pass from Jake Rudock to Jehu Chesson, and the Wolverines took a 14-6 lead, and it looked as if all was well.

That’s when things changed. Fast forward to the fourth quarter, and the Wolverines were trailing 26-21, with Rudock knocked out of the game. In his place came Wilton Speight, who had precious little game experience at the time. At this point, even the most staunch of believers would have had some doubts about Michigan’s ability to come back.

Thrust into the spotlight, Speight kept his cool and found Chesson in the end zone on 3rd down and 10 for a 12-yard touchdown pass to give Michigan a 29-26 lead, setting up one of the most dramatic finishes in the history of the Little Brown Jug. With 19 seconds left in the game, Minnesota quarterback Mitch Leidner threw an apparent 23-yard touchdown pass to Drew Wolitarsky, and the hearts of Wolverine fans around the globe sunk all at once.

Then, amid the noise, there was a glimmer of hope, however slight. The officiating crew determined that Wolitarsky’s knee had touched the ground before the ball had crossed the plain of the end zone, so Minnesota had a first down inside the Michigan 1 yard line. It still seemed like a long shot, but at least there was some hope. Now, if Michigan could only get a break.

Sure enough, the Wolverines got a break when Minnesota squandered valuable time trying to run the first down play. After the clock wound, Minnesota took what seemed like an eternity before snapping the ball, and then Maurice Hurst forced Leidner to essentially throw the ball away, leaving just two seconds on the clock. Would Minnesota kick the field goal, or try to muscle the ball over the goal line for the win? What followed was a game-ending goal line stop that would have made Bo Schembechler proud. After the ball was snapped, Leidner tried to score on a quarterback sneak, but the Michigan defensive line used textbook technique, stopping Leidner cold, allowing the Wolverines to recapture the Jug they had lost the year before. More than anything, this game proved that Michigan could take a punch, and come roaring back with a vengeance.

Many thanks to YouTube poster CFB Fans and ESPN for the broadcast of the game. As always, this blog post is written strictly for the enjoyment of readers, and I do not own anything, or profit in any way from this content.

Michigan vs Minnesota Football — Looking Back – 2005

Looking Back is a Special Feature by Jeff Cummins Highlighting Key Rivalry Games

The fourth installment of the series looking back at the football rivalry between Michigan and Minnesota takes us to 2005. In the first decade of the 21st century, Michigan had some teams that were loaded, but they didn’t always accomplish what they should, for a variety of reasons. The 2005 game against Minnesota was a perfect example of that.

In each of the previous two seasons, Michigan and Minnesota had played close games, but Michigan had won both of those contests, reenforcing the Wolverines’ confidence. If anything, those wins might have made Michigan a little complacent. Late in the game, Michigan had forced Minnesota into a 3rd down and 10 yards to go from the Minnesota 25-yard line, and it’s easy to imagine that most people in the stadium were already thinking about what plays Michigan should run when the Wolverines got the ball back.

Unfortunately for all Michigan, it was only third down, and Minnesota didn’t panic. Rather than throwing the ball, Minnesota ran the ball, sending running back Gary Russell around right end, where nobody got in front of him. Several defenders reached and grabbed, finally giving chase and bringing Russell down deep in Michigan territory. By then, the damage was done, and Minnesota kicker Jason Giannini knocked a chip shot field goal through, giving Minnesota a 23-20 lead.

Stunned, Michigan had one last chance on the kickoff, and the Wolverines tried to run a version of the legendary Cal return against Stanford in 1982. But the band wasn’t on the field this time, and the play ended meekly, with a member of the Michigan kickoff return team getting drilled into the ground, as the Golden Gopher captains raced across the field to grab the Little Brown Jug. Other than the Minnesota players and coaches, most in the crowd remained silent, absorbing the shock of the loss.

In retrospect, a loss like that had been a long time coming for Michigan, though not necessarily against Minnesota. Michigan had edged numerous opponents in close victories, camouflaging the fact that the Wolverines often had not played as well as they should. This time, the result went the wrong way, resulting in a hard lesson, but one that was important, nonetheless.

The next season, Michigan came back with a vengeance, but in October 2005, that was difficult to imagine, as fans watched Minnesota players disappear up the ramp and into the tunnel, taking the Little Brown Jug with them.

Thanks to YouTube poster ProjectPangea for the video. As always, this blog post is written strictly for the entertainment of fans, and I do not profit from it any way.

Michigan vs Minnesota Football — Looking Back – 2003

Looking Back is a Special Feature by Jeff Cummins Highlighting Key Rivalry Games

The third installment of the series focusing on the football rivalry between Michigan and Minnesota takes us back to 2003. The Wolverines arrived in Minneapolis fresh off a frustrating loss at Iowa. Few expected Minnesota to give Michigan any trouble, but unusual things often happen in rivalry games.

Michigan entered the game as the lower-ranked team, but had every reason to expect to dominate Minnesota; the Wolverines hadn’t lost to Minnesota since 1986, a time that virtually none of the 2003 Wolverines could even remember. So Michigan could be forgiven for thinking a very should be in order, but in the third quarter, anyone wearing the maize & blue would glance up at the scoreboard in the Metrodome and realize that Minnesota was, in fact, leading by three touchdowns. This wasn’t an ordinary deficit by any means.

Somehow, the resilience that made those 2003 Wolverines Big Ten champions showed up late in the game, when they needed it most. John Navarre started the comeback when he connected with Chris Perry on a screen pass for a 10-yard touchdown in the fourth quarter to cut Minnesota’s lead to two scores. After Jacob Stewart returned an interception 30 yards for a touchdown, the Wolverines started to regain their confidence, while the Golden Gophers could hear the footsteps, as well as the burden of history. Suddenly, maintaining that lead must have seemed like a monumental task for the Golden Gophers, while the Wolverines experience a very familiar feeling, the fierce rush of adrenalin that comes with knowing you can achieve a goal. Michigan sensed the game was theirs for the taking, and they never took their feet off the gas, even after Asad Abdel-Khaliq scampered 52 yards for a touchdown that re-established a 14-point advantage for the Golden Gophers. Michigan responded with the obligatory big play from Braylon Edwards, who could be counted on to make at least one big play in every Michigan comeback. Edwards got by the Minnesota secondary and extended the ball across the goal line to cut Michigan’s deficit to one touchdown, which Perry erased on a 10-yard touchdown run deep in the fourth quarter. By the time that Garrett Rivas lined up for the decisive 33-yard field goal, there was a familiar silence in the Metronome, a place that always lacked a college football feeling. By the time Markus Curry intercepted Minnesota’s last gasp pass, there was an air of resignation in the Metrodome, as the Golden Gophers realized their fate.

Michigan went on to claim the Big Ten title that year, but the comeback win over Minnesota was the Wolverines’ most exciting game, by far.

As always, this blog post is strictly for the entertainment of fans. I do not profit in any way from it. Thanks to YouTube poster WolverineHistorian and ESPN for the video highlights below.

Michigan vs Minnesota Football — Looking Back – 1997

Looking Back is a Special Feature by Jeff Cummins Highlighting Key Rivalry Games

The second post of the series looking back at the football rivalry between Michigan and Minnesota takes us back to 1997. Most prognosticators had pegged Michigan for rebuilding mode that season, but the Wolverines had other ideas. Despite the preseason predictions, the Wolverines had the confidence to make Minnesota the opponent for their 101st homecoming, an honor usually reserved for an opponent that’s expected to be a fairly easy win for the home team.

When game day arrived, the Wolverines delivered on their promise. Fresh off a stirring defensive performance at Michigan State, Michigan spotted the Golden Gophers a three-point lead when Adam Bailey kicked a 26-yard field goal for Minnesota. That was the last time all day the Michigan defense would prove to be so sporting to the Golden Gophers. After a methodical march downfield, Jay Feely’s field gaol attempt sailed wide right, and Michigan let Minnesota off the hook. Things changed immediately in the second quarter, as Charles Woodson scampered 34 yards on a reverse to score the Wolverines’ first touchdown of the day. After that, the game took on a distinct maize & blue hue. Minnesota’s offense played at normal speed, while the Wolverine defense looked as if the tape was set in fast forward mode. Following a brief Minnesota possession, Brian Griese found tight end Mark Campbell on a waggle pass for a 12-yard touchdown pass and the Wolverines were in solid control.

In the second half, Anthony Thomas scored on a 30-yard run to effectively turn out the lights on the day. The easy victory proved to be beneficial for the Wolverines, who had critical games coming up against Penn State, Wisconsin, Ohio State and Washington State in the drive for their first national championship since 1948.

Thanks to YouTube poster WolverineHistorian for the highlight film of this game. As always, this blog post is strictly for the enjoyment of readers and I do not profit in any way from it.