Jug history at forefront of Michigan's preparation for Big Ten opener

Erin Kirkland/Daily
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By Liz Vukelich, Daily Sports Editor
Published October 3, 2013

Jeremy Gallon says that after practice, the seniors always emphasize that the Michigan football team needs to play like something is on the line — like a trophy or a Big Ten championship.

Come Saturday, the Wolverines will be playing for both.

Michigan (4-0) opens conference play against Minnesota (0-1 Big Ten, 4-1 overall) to start its hunt for a conference championship. But there’s a more short-term reward at stake.

Minnesota is not much of a Michigan rival, and the all-time series isn’t very close — the Wolverines have a lopsided 72-24-3 record against the Golden Gophers. Despite all that, there’s still a reason the Minnesota game is always circled on the Wolverines’ calendar. There’s the Little Brown Jug to protect, after all.

Last Sunday marked the official end of the bye and the start of Minnesota week. Michigan coach Brady Hoke started the team meeting with an explanation of the Jug: its origins, its history, its significance, going back to its first appearance in the 1903 game. Twenty-six members of the 114-man roster come from outside Big Ten country, and Hoke wanted to make sure each one of them was as Jug-literate as their teammates who came to Michigan already familiar with the matchup.

Longtime equipment manager Jon Falk, the man responsible for keeping the Jug safe, also contributed to the players’ education — he opened Tuesday’s practice with a speech on the trophy’s value.

The Wolverines have won the last five matchups with the Golden Gophers, and that’s one thing about the Jug that Hoke tried to emphasize above all else: “You don’t want them to come over to your sideline and take it back.”

Not a practice, meeting or moment went by this week when the Jug wasn’t brought up. There are reminders on the walls. The message is impossible to ignore.

“I do believe that those games that you have the privilege to play in (are important) because of the history and tradition that’s been there,” Hoke said.

But for as much as Michigan talks about tradition and pride, there’s still a much more pressing matter at hand. The jury is still out on which team — the one that beat Notre Dame or the one that barely squeaked by Akron and Connecticut — will show up Saturday.

Redshirt junior Devin Gardner made his quarterback debut against Minnesota last season. Even though he notched his first interception, he still threw for an impressive 234 yards.

Gardner’s decision-making abilities have since been at the forefront of discussion over the past few weeks, despite a plethora of other issues plaguing the Wolverines. Hoke already shuffled up the interior line and expects to see a well-rounded Minnesota squad in Michigan Stadium.

“They’re going to be a physical football team because that’s the way (Minnesota coach Jerry Kill) wants his teams on both sides of the ball,” Hoke said. “From a defensive perspective, I think they’re pretty doggone salty. Offensively, they want to run the football.”

Hoke handily beat the Golden Gophers, 58-0, in 2011 — both his and Kill’s inaugural season as head of their respective programs. Even though the margin of victory narrowed to 35-13 in 2012, no current Wolverine knows what it’s like to lose the Jug.

Minnesota may not be Michigan’s marquee matchup of the season, but Gallon still had difficulty putting what the game means into words.

“Celebrating with your teammates, playing for something other than yourself … it means a lot to me and my team,” Gallon said. “Just knowing that the Jug, that trophy, is coming back home to you.”