After a two year layoff, Michigan (4-1 Big Ten, 6-2 overall) will resume its battle for the Little Brown Jug with Minnesota (1-4, 3-5) this Saturday.
This once-balanced rivalry has lost some of its luster with the fans in the past half-century, since the Wolverines began dominating the series. Michigan has won 29 of the last 31 meetings and holds an all-time advantage in the series at 63-23-3.
Nevertheless, the hype is not lost on coach Lloyd Carr.
“We are looking forward to playing for the oldest trophy in college football, the Little Brown Jug, and it has great value to our program,” Carr said.
But it may not have the same meaning to Minnesota, which not only hasn”t had the Little Brown Jug in the last 12 chances, but it also plays for three other rivalry trophies.
“Obviously that Minnesota versus Michigan for the Little Brown Jug was a big thing at one time,” Mason said. “I think once the rivalry becomes lopsided which it has I think maybe the rivalry is diminished to a certain extent, especially when you take into account at Minnesota we”ve got a lot of built-in rivalries, we play for a lot of trophies probably more trophies than anybody.”
The Gophers nearly pulled off the upset in the their last matchup in Minneapolis, when a Tom Brady-led Michigan squad fell behind 10-7 in the first quarter, but came back to win 15-10 in a defensively dominated game.
If Minnesota expects to defeat the Wolverines this year, it will have to rely on its rushing game, which is second in the Big Ten at 240.5 yards per game. Michigan retained the No. 1 rushing defense in the country, despite allowing 211 yards to Michigan State”s T.J. Duckett last week. But Mason still expects the Wolverines to be tough on the ground game.
“A lot of times guys change their opinions on things based on one performance,” Mason said. “Michigan didn”t become a good team against the rush overnight, nor will they disappear being a good team against the rush overnight. I”m expecting a team in Michigan that will be extremely tough to run against.”
Last week, the Spartans neutralized the Michigan linebackers by spreading the field and forcing the Wolverines to commit to the pass. The Gophers aren”t as talented at wide receiver or quarterback as the Spartans, but Carr expects Minnesota to challenge the Wolverines” secondary.
“They are like a lot of teams that have an outstanding ability to run in the sense they are going to make you put eight or nine guys on the line, and then they throw the ball to (Ron) Johnson on the outside. It”s not complicated, but it”s effective.” Carr said.
The game has bowl implications for both teams as Michigan will try to retain the lead in the Big Ten and the Gophers will try to win their remaining games to finish with a chance to go to a bowl for the fourth consecutive year. Minnesota faces a tough road in its remaining games and coach Glen Mason is realistic about his team”s chances.
“Obviously we have to win our final three games and with the schedule that we play playing at Michigan, at Iowa and Wisconsin at home that would be tall order for us right now,” Mason said. “I”m not thinking about that now, nor am I ever thinking about it. I”m not one of those guys that presents to the program, “You”ve got to win six games, seven games or eight games.””