After a heartbreaking loss to Michigan State, Michigan (5-1 Big Ten, 7-2 overall) returned home to pound Minnesota (1-5, 3-6) 31-10 by fixing its problems with the running game, both offensively and defensively.
The Wolverines” No. 1 rushing defense allowed T.J. Duckett 211 yards last week, but held the Gophers” to just 150 yards on the ground 80 yards below their average and rushed for 300 yards as a team 150 yards more than their average and a season-high.
“That”s one thing we stressed all week, that we wanted to take pride in running the football,” quarterback John Navarre said. “Last game we struggled a little bit in that area.”
Also for the first time this season, all of Michigan”s touchdowns came on the ground. Led by the tandem of Chris Perry and B.J. Askew, the Wolverines took advantage of a lifeless Minnesota defense to rush for 91 and 82 yards respectively. Askew continued his breakout season with two more touchdowns, giving him nine for the season.
“I thought our backs ran with power and aggressiveness,” Michigan coach Lloyd Carr said. “I think that is what you have to do.”
Perry, who has struggled in recovering from injury, seemed to finally regain the form that earned him so much playing time as a freshman. It was the second consecutive games that Perry scored a touchdown.
The heavy running tone of the game was set from the first drive when eight of Michigan”s first eleven plays were rushes, culminating with Askew scoring from five yards out untouched.
This methodical, ball control approach was seen in each of Michigan”s scoring drives. No trick plays were needed two Calvin Bell reverses, including one for a score, were as tricky as it got and the longest play from scrimmage was a 25-yard Perry run.
The Wolverines did surprise the Gophers by bringing out quarterback Jermaine Gonzales. He showed his mobility by running the draw for two first downs and rolling out to escape the Minnesota pass rush.
His play was not without mistakes as Gonzales overthrew a wide-open Bill Seymour on two occasions.
But Carr isn”t worried about it.
“The opportunity to get him in there was good for him and good for our team,” Carr said. “Based on what he did today, I gained confidence in him. And our team gained confidence in him.”
Michigan”s defense played admirably in returning from one of its worst games of the season. It held the Big Ten”s third-leading rusher Tellis Redmon to just 58 yards. The defense looked shaky on just one drive a nine-play, 80-yard push after a Navarre interception. The drive finished with a blown coverage on Ron Johnson for Minnesota”s only touchdown of the game.
With the victory, Michigan retains possession of the Little Brown Jug for the 13th consecutive meeting. As tradition, captains Eric Brackins and Shawn Thompson symbolically carried the Jug off the field.
The loss means Minnesota cannot become bowl eligible. The Gophers had attended a bowl the past two years.
Next week Michigan will face another team with its back to the wall in Wisconsin. The Badgers need to win their final two games to become bowl eligible. The Wolverines remain in control of the Big Ten and their BCS hopes, needing to win out in order to earn a tie with the Illinois. The tiebreaker is head-to-head competition.