There have been too many times of leaving the Metrodome at halftime and going to watch other games that weren’t blowouts. We deserved this,” my buddy Larp, a huge Minnesota fan, said after the Gophers’ 23-20 win.

Michigan Football
Sophomore quarterback Chad Henne is hit on his blindside by Minnesota linebacker Mario Reese. Henne was pressured throughout the game by the Gophers front seven. Minnesota finished with three sacks, while Henne completed 14-of-29 attempts for 155 yards in
Michigan Football

Minnesota finally brought the Jug back to Minneapolis, and Michigan is left with a season that, at best, is about pride. And the “rubes” from my home state were celebrating with 19 years of disappointment gone.

But it didn’t look like that would happen with three minutes left in the game. The Gophers had a backup quarterback in and were just limping to overtime, hoping for a miracle.

That miracle came even with the aforementioned reserve on the field.

When I was a senior in high school, my football team played Tony Mortensen’s squad. I remember thinking, ‘Wow, he’s really good at ball fakes and play-action passes.’ I came away impressed, but I never thought he would be at the helm of a Minnesota win over the Wolverines.

On Minnesota’s last drive Saturday, it really didn’t matter. He could’ve been Peyton Manning making his play fakes, and he still wasn’t going to get a chance to throw the ball. Minnesota coach Glen Mason would only let him put the ball in someone else’s hands. But somehow, that worked for the Gophers.

With less than three minutes remaining, and with its starting quarterback out, Minnesota looked content to take it to overtime and see what happened. Instead, the Gophers won a game that they’d been waiting 19 years for.

After the loss, no Michigan player or coach hid the fact that he knew Minnesota was going to run on that fateful third-and-10. But even with that knowledge, the defense let sophomore Gary Russell scamper 61 yards for a first down to take the Jug back.

No one really could explain what was going on.

“We were in what we call ‘backer support,’ where that ball should be turned in by our outside linebacker,” Michigan coach Lloyd Carr said. “I think he got blocked. From my vantage point, it looked like the ball got outside of him. Then we didn’t get the rotation we needed because we knew they were going to run the football. That’s the frustrating, discouraging thing about that play.”

Said senior co-captain Pat Massey: “We didn’t play well. That’s for sure. Especially when we have the game in our hands like that and we don’t come up with a stop. It’s a poor performance.”

Frustration is probably the perfect word for what most Michigan fans are feeling right now. Many were probably asking, “How the hell can they give up a play like that when they knew Minnesota was going to run the ball?!”

That’s difficult to answer, and I don’t have the solution. But this game is just an example of how the Wolverines’ season has gone this year – a few highs and way too many lows.

Early on, the game looked like it was Michigan’s for the taking. The Wolverines marched down the field and kicked a field goal. I’m pretty sure most Michigan fans were thinking that this was going to be just like many of the last 16 games.

Luck and good fortune were on the Wolverines’ side. On Michigan’s first drive, Mark Losli tipped quarterback Chad Henne’s pass, but Jason Avant came down with the third-and-nine catch. I’m almost certain most fans were thinking that this one was going to be easy, just like 33 of the last 35 contests between the Gophers and Wolverines.

My friend Larp said he was thinking the same thing he usually did when Minnesota used to get blown out by Michigan – just another year and another loss.

It got even worse for Minnesota when it looked like the Wolverines recovered a fumble and seemingly returned it 55 yards for a touchdown and a 10-0 lead.

“Images of mid-90’s blowouts at the Dome came into my head,” Larp said.

But surprisingly – and in my opinion inexplicably – the play was overturned. Willis Barringer didn’t put Michigan up by 10, and the rout definitely wasn’t on. After that, it was a dogfight to the end.

Minnesota did some of the same things it used to – committed stupid penalties, bad throws and special teams mistakes. But when the clock expired, it was Minnesota’s flag waving at midfield on the block ‘M’. And it was David Harris, Prescott Burgess and LaMarr Woodley sitting on the bench in disbelief. Just down the field, the Gophers paraded the Brown Jug around while singing their fight song, and Michigan was left wondering how the season could be salvaged. A win over newly-rejuvenated Penn State would help.

 

– Matt Venegoni can be reached at mvgoni@umich.edu.

 

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