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.