College football is overrun with a glut of “trophy games.” These games pit two “rivals” against each other, with some type of prize going to the winner.
Many of these “rivalries” the “Land Grant” contest between Penn State and Michigan State comes to mind seem rather forced and unnecessary. But, the “Little Brown Jug” game between Michigan and Minnesota is one rivalry game which fits the billing.
Although the Wolverines have dominated this matchup over the last quarter-century, that does not diminish the importance of Saturday”s game.
Michigan still controls its own destiny in the race for the Big Ten title if the Wolverines win out, they are headed to the BCS. The Golden Gophers would love nothing more than to shatter Michigan”s title dreams.
Michigan rushing offense vs. Minnesota rushing defense: The Wolverines” ground game has been subpar, to say the least. B.J. Askew and Chris Perry have had some success at times, but at other times such as last week”s game against Michigan State Michigan has been completely unable to run the ball.
Fortunately for Michigan, the Golden Gophers” defense is nothing to write home about. Last week, Minnesota allowed an abysmal Ohio State offense to roll up 265 yards on the ground.
Ohio State ran the ball 47 times and averaged 5.6 yards per carry, numbers which should have Michigan offensive coordinator Stan Parrish salivating.
Michigan pass offense vs. Minnesota pass defense: After playing solidly, if not spectacularly, in leading Michigan to a 5-1 start, quarterback John Navarre has struggled in his last two games. Against Iowa and Michigan State, Navarre threw four interceptions and had all sorts of problems maintaining drives.
Part of Navarre”s problem is that he has developed tunnel vision if he doesn”t throw to Marquise Walker, he doesn”t throw to anybody. But much like the rest of Michigan”s offense Walker disappeared in the second half last week. He caught only two passes and dropped several others.
Where were Michigan”s other receivers? Good question. Wideouts Ron Bellamy, Tyrece Butler and Calvin Bell combined for two catches against Michigan State. Meanwhile, the Wolverines” tight ends had one catch by Bennie Joppru, which went for no gain.
But, once again, here comes Minnesota”s defense to help the Wolverines get better. The Golden Gophers allowed Ohio State”s Steve Bellisari who has had games of 5-for-23 and 4-for-10 to complete 12 of 17 passes for 203 yards and two touchdowns.
Minnesota rush offense vs. Michigan rush defense: Minnesota returned nine starters from what was one of the best offenses in the Big Ten last season, and it shows.
The Golden Gophers are averaging 240 yards per game on the ground this year. Through eight games, tailback Tellis Redmon has rushed for 891 yards and six touchdowns and is averaging 6.1 yards per carry.
Until last weekend, Michigan”s run defense looked dominant. Then, the Spartans” T.J. Duckett took the Wolverines” defense behind the woodshed, rumbling for 211 yards and a touchdown.
If there”s any upside to the situation, it is that Redmon is not a battering ram-type back like Duckett. At any rate, this should be a great matchup of strength vs. strength, and it is too close to call.
Minnesota pass offense vs. Michigan pass defense: Entering the season, everyone knew that Michigan”s secondary was going to be suspect. Sure enough, the Wolverines currently have the worst pass defense in the Big Ten, giving up an average of 242 yards a game.
Minnesota”s Ron Johnson was generally regarded as the best receiver in the Big Ten entering the season, but he has been something of a disappointment.
Johnson”s numbers (41 catches, 567 yards, five touchdowns) aren”t bad, but they also aren”t what you would expect from a guy who was a preseason All-American.
Still, the thought of Johnson a Detroit native who has been pointing to this game all season being defended by a Michigan cornerback has to make fans shudder.
Special Teams: Minnesota kicker Dan Nystrom struggled at times earlier in the season, but he is still a big weapon for the Golden Gophers. Minnesota also has a strong punter in Preston Gruening, and Redmon has been decent on punt and kickoff returns.
Until his final punt against Michigan State, senior Hayden Epstein had done a good job all season as both the kicker and punter. Epstein”s 57-yard field goal against the Spartans broke his own school record, and he is averaging over 40 yards per punt.
On the downside, Michigan”s return game is mediocre at best, and the Wolverines” coverage teams were up-and-down against Michigan State.
Intangibles: Michigan has won 15 straight games in this series, and 29 of the last 31. As if that”s not enough, Minnesota has yet to win a road game this year, and you can bet that Michigan coach Lloyd Carr will have his team foaming at the mouth following last week”s loss.
Prediction: This is a must-win game for both teams Minnesota needs to win out to become bowl-eligible, while Michigan needs to win out to ensure a Big Ten title and a BCS bid.
After getting embarrassed at Toledo to start the season, the Golden Gophers have hung tough in two Big Ten road games, falling 23-17 to Northwestern and 25-14 to Illinois.
In addition, Glen Mason has done a good job rebuilding what was once a moribund Minnesota program, so don”t expect the Golden Gophers to get blown out tomorrow.
But, this game means too much to Michigan. This should be a relatively close game, but Michigan”s superior talent coupled with a heightened sense of urgency will keep the “Little Brown Jug” in Ann Arbor for the 16th straight year.
Michigan 24, Minnesota 14