The coveted Little Brown Jug.
Michigan coach Lloyd Carr is determined to keep it. For Minnesota coach Tim Brewster, the Jug is the only thing that could salvage what has become a lost season.
Last time the Golden Gophers came to the Big House, they ran out of Ann Arbor with the Jug on the legs of running back Gary Russell, but this is not 2005.
The Wolverines will look to keep the Jug in its undisclosed location in Ann Arbor for another year while also extending their six-game winning streak.
Minnesota stands in their way. But do the Gophers have enough firepower to slow Michigan?
Michigan rushing offense vs. Minnesota rushing defense
Not to diminish the accomplishments and career of Mike Hart, but to be honest, it doesn’t really matter whether he plays or not against the Gophers. Minnesota is allowing an incredible 192 rushing yards per game, by far the worst average in the Big Ten. Even if sophomore Carlos Brown gets the bulk of the carries, Michigan should rack up the rushing yards against the Gophers. Even with a torn ACL, injured running back Kevin Grady could probably break 100 yards against this defense.
Michigan passing offense vs. Minnesota passing defense
It doesn’t get much better for the Gophers here. They’re allowing 342 yards per game through the air, which is not just 90 yards worse than the second-worst pass defense in the Big Ten (Northwestern), but ranks as the worst pass defense in the nation. It probably doesn’t help that Minnesota is starting three freshmen in the defensive backfield. If Chad Henne isn’t completely recovered from the shoulder injury he suffered against Illinois, he certainly shouldn’t hurry back. Ryan Mallett should regain his confidence against this bad Gopher secondary. Besides, it might be worth it to rest Henne with the Michigan State-Wisconsin-Ohio State stretch coming up. With receivers like Mario Manningham, Adrian Arrington, Greg Mathews and tight end Carson Butler going against this defensive backfield, your dead grandmother could throw for 250 yards (same joke, we know. Idea still applies).
Michigan rushing defense vs. Minnesota rushing offense
Finally an area in which the Gophers don’t embarrass themselves. Minnesota actually averages a very respectable 180 yards per game on the ground. It runs the spread offense, and both senior running back Amir Pinnix, who pulled a hip muscle against North Dakota State, and freshman quarterback Adam Weber qualify as legitimate threats on the ground, combining for 961 yards and nine rushing touchdowns this season. But this has come against national powerhouses North Dakota State, Bowling Green and Florida Atlantic. Against Ohio State, the Gophers managed just 45 yards on the ground, so Michigan should contain the ground attack fairly easily.
Michigan passing defense vs. Minnesota passing offense
Well, there’s not much to say about the Gophers’ aerial attack. Weber would rather run than throw, and who would blame him with his receiver corps? After the graduation of main passing target tight end Matt Spaeth, Weber has struggled to move the ball through the air. Not to mention Michigan’s secondary has come together during the Wolverines’ six-game winning streak to stop a variety of spread offenses – and most of those had quarterbacks who could throw the ball better than Weber. With cornerback Morgan Trent locking down on Minnesota star wideout Ernie Wheelwright, Weber won’t have many more options to turn to before the Wolverine front four gets to him.
Usually this category would go to the opposing team, but hey, what do you know? Michigan actually is playing well on special teams. After allowing a long return on the opening kickoff against Illinois, the kickoff coverage team did a solid job putting the Fighting Illini in poor field position. Senior K.C. Lopata has filled in nicely kicking field goals. He hasn’t missed yet. And don’t forget punter Zoltan Mesko, who is having his best year yet. His hangtime last Saturday helped caused a key fumble to set up the Wolverines’ game-winning touchdown. On the other sideline, the Gophers boast punter Justin Kucek. Kucek is averaging 43.7 yards per punt, two yards better than Mesko. Besides Kucek, Minnesota doesn’t pose much of a threat on special teams. The Gophers rank ninth in punt return average (6.2 yards per return).
Let’s see. Michigan lost the Brown Jug the last time Minnesota rolled into the Big House. The seniors this year all remember the sinking feeling they had watching the Gophers storm across the field and take the Jug back to Minnesota. The Jug may already be back in Ann Arbor, but the Wolverines want to make sure they don’t have to have that sour taste for another year. Not to mention, they’re one of two teams left unbeaten in Big Ten play and would like to keep it that way.