Saturday, November 03, 2012

Don't tug on our Little Brown Jug

After each Michigan football game, the MgoBlue website posts its post-game “notes” of various interests about almost any aspect pertaining to the Wolverines. Some of it is actually interesting in a trivial fashion, and some seem like the weakest forms of filler to be found.
Hopefully it makes the job of deadline journalists easier, although, back in the prehistoric days of press box coverage (before cable television, cell phones and personal computers), we were lucky to provide quotes from both lockerrooms.
So here are some of the actual Games Notes from Saturday’s 35-13 victory over Minnesota, meaning the UM players unlocked the Jug’s box, hoisted it for all the departing Minnesota fans to see and returned it to its accustomed resting place.
• The Wolverines improved to 72-24-3 in the all-time series against Minnesota. U-M has won five straight over the Golden Gophers and Michigan retains the Little Brown Jug, as it has stayed in Ann Arbor since the 2006 season.
• Michigan is 68-22-3 all-time against Minnesota in games that handed out the Little Brown Jug.
• Michigan earned its sixth victory of the season, becoming bowl eligible for the 42nd time in program history.
Wanna know how dominant Michigan has been in this rivalry for an old clay pot water bottle? There was a period of time (1933-42) when Minnesota ran roughshod over the Wolverines, winning nine consecutive games until the 1943 Wolverine squad had enough and pasted the Gophers 49-6.
Since 1968, it’s been ALL Maize and Blue; with Saturday’s win, Michigan has won 38 of the 41 encounters. The time the Little Brown Jug has spent in Minneapolis is shorter than Lindsay Lohan’s latest movie spent in theaters.
As for bowl eligibility, at the moment, fixation is ONLY on the road to the Rose Bowl because anything else is a letdown. If Minnesota reaches six wins, heading to the Little Caesar’s Bowl would be a minor miracle (given its conference record will fall between “crappy” and “sucks”).
• Today’s game marked Michigan’s first contest against the Golden Gophers at TCF Bank Stadium, Minnesota’s on-campus stadium since opening in 2009.
• This is the first time in 41 years that Michigan played an outdoor football game in Minnesota.
• The last time Michigan played on the Minnesota campus was 1981, Anthony Carter’s junior season with the Wolverines. U-M won the game.
Prior to this initial appearance at TCF Bank Stadium, games were played at the indoor Hubert H. Humphrey Metrodome and the old Memorial Stadium (one nasty creeky facility). The press box was all wood and no one could find their spot without climbing over someone else.
Nutrition, such as it was (brats, burgers and hot chocolate for a game played in the 30s with flurries), was situated outside the back of the press box, walking over rickety planks to such a flimsy shack that homeless people would have thumbed their noses.
Inside, old electric portable heaters (the ones with the red hot filaments) barely kept one’s finger thawed enough to type anything or even scribble notes on a pad. And don't ask about the restrooms...
My visit came in 1973 for a 34-7 boring, lackluster affair, and when we of the fifth estate went to visit with Bo afterwards, who kept couching his quotes with contradictory facial expressions, meaning he was less-than-pleased with even being there.
• Junior quarterback-wide receiver Devin Gardner made his first collegiate start at quarterback, stepping in behind center in place of senior quarterback Denard Robinson, who missed today’s contest due to injury. Robinson had started 34 consecutive games dating back to the 2010 season opener vs. Connecticut (Sept. 4) of his sophomore campaign.
• Gardner put together a career day behind center, setting career highs in pass completions, pass attempts, passing yards, passing touchdowns and rushing attempts. He completed 12-of-18 passes for 234 yards and two touchdowns and carried the ball 10 times for 21 yards and one touchdown.

• Gardner threw a career-long 47-yard pass to senior/junior wide receiver Jeremy Gallon in the third quarter, then matched that mark with a 47-yard completion to fifth-year senior wide receiver Roy Roundtree in the fourth quarter. He also completed a 45-yard touchdown pass to junior wide receiver Drew Dileo in the second quarter.
There will be no “Wally Pipp” scenario played out here; when Robinson is ready to go back under center, he will be the starter – no question about it. However, the question becomes how much practice time Gardner should get as quarterback and as a receiver. Despite his own success, connecting with the Michigan Mighty Mites (Dileo, Gallon, Roundtree), Gardner’s size on the outside, against smaller defensive backs, was also missed.
• Michigan put together back-to-back scoring drives of 91 and 90 yards, respectively, in the second quarter, marking the third time in program history that U-M posted 90-plus yard scoring drives in the same game. It also marks the first time in program history that the feat has been accomplished on consecutive offensive drives.
• Michigan’s 91-yard scoring drive in the second quarter marked the longest drive of the season for the Maize and Blue, and is tied for the ninth-longest scoring drive in program history. The 12-play drive spanned seven minutes and five seconds.
Field position was a major problem for Michigan all game long; often due to a sub-par performance by punter Will Hagerup, who averaged less than 30 yards on three kicks. Coming into the game as one of the conference’s best punters, and the lack of any weather-related hindrances, it is hard to explain why he stunk so bad. But it factored into the long scoring drives (after Michigan held Minnesota when the Gophers had superb starting positions).
And these drives appeared out of nowhere because Gardner looked lost as a puppy in the first quarter. Suddenly he was finding receivers and the offensive line, which had allowed two sacks and was bring steamrolled by the Gophers front four, decided to actually block these people. The two aforementioned scoring drives totaled 25 plays, and swung time of possession in the opposite direction.
• For the sixth time this season, the Wolverines held an opponent to 13 points or less.
• The U-M defense has not allowed an opponent to score a first quarter touchdown since Week 1 vs. Alabama (Sept. 1) and has not allowed a first quarter score since Week 2 vs. Air Force (Sept. 8).
• Michigan has not allowed an opponent to score on its opening offensive drive all season. U-M and Penn State are the only two Big Ten teams that have not allowed its opponents to score on the opening series.
• Michigan limited Minnesota to 49 yards of total offense (7 rushing yards and 42 passing yards) and three first downs in the second quarter.
• Junior-sophomore linebacker Jake Ryan finished the game with nine tackles, including three tackles-for-loss. Dating back to last season, Ryan has posted a tackle-for-loss in 14 of his last 15 games.
• Fifth-year senior linebacker Kenny Demens notched a team-high 10 tackles, including one tackle-for-loss. has posted double-digit tackles in two consecutive games and nine times in his career.
In many ways, this year’s version of Michigan football is becoming known for its defensive prowess – a shocking admission from where the program stood just two years earlier.
Leading that effort is sophomore end Jake Ryan, demonstrating his future credentials as an All-American. He has simply been a beast among men with his quickness and ability to shuck blockers to make tackles.
Demens, probably an undersized linebacker compared to other teams, has been the other spark plug for the defense, offering very little in the way of open space up the middle.
As much credit that heads the way of coordinator Greg Mattison (and all of it deserved), the scheme put on the field only works as well of the players execute it – with Ryan and Demens, and an improving secondary week-to-week, the list of teams that can match that kind of performance is a short one.
Of course, there’s a big difference in coaching between the two schools. Gopher coach Jerry Kill made three crucial mistakes when the game was closer than aided U-M to victory.
Midway through the first quarter, at the Michigan 41, Kill decided to go for a first down instead of (again) pinning the Wolverines deep in their own end. Yes, the Michigan defense stuffed the play for no gain.
Midway through the third quarter, Kill called for a fake field goal when Minnesota had possession at the UM 16. The three points would have brought the Gophers closer at a point in the game when one turnover could have been a major difference. Yes, the Michigan defense stuffed the play short of a first down.
Finally, with 5:17 to play, at the Michigan 2, on fourth down, and behind 28-13,Kill goes for … a field goal. No guts, no glory, no Little Brown Jug. Besides, Toussaint’s scoring run ended all doubt just a few moments later.
These are the choices that mean the difference between going to the Rose and Little Caesar’s bowls.
• Gallon paced Michigan with four catches for 72 yards, including a 10-yard touchdown reception. He also added a career-high 21 rushing yards on two carries.
• Sophomore running back Thomas Rawls registered 43 rushing yards and one touchdown on a career-high 16 carries.
• Senior/junior running back Fitzgerald Toussaint amassed 70 rushing yards on 13 carries, including a season-best 41-yard touchdown scamper in the fourth quarter.
Aside from the obvious choice of Gardner, I thought Gallon was also THE star of the game; his leaping touchdown reception in the face of double coverage solidified the victory in the second half and broke the Gophers’ spirit.
As for the running attack, it was better, at times, but not in any sort of proximity of where it needs to be. Subtract Toussaint’s very well executed touchdown run, he gained just 29 yards on the other 12 attempts. Rawls’ 43 yards on 16 carries meant he gained less than three yards in those clouds of dust.
That output forces more pressure on someone like Gardner (without the third option – Robinson’s speed and feet) and his inexperience could backfire at the wrong time. Michigan must have better rushing numbers in order to win the last three games of the regular season.
This Saturday, Michigan is back at home against Northwestern, a pesky team that could offer problems on the march to Dec. 1. A prediction prior to a day before, without knowing the status of Robinson and where Gardner plays, would be a waste of time and energy.
However, fortune still lies within Michigan’s hands – although it would have been nice if Sparty actually played UP to its standards and not snatch defeat from the jaws of victory against Nebraska. The Cornhuskers should have stumbled in East Lansing (is D’Antonio in trouble?), can still stumble in the next three weeks, and then Michigan will play Wisconsin for the right to go to Pasadena.
And that’s the one game note that matters.

1 comment:

Key Garner said...

Chuck, I am part of a team that is publishing an e-newspaper that will come online Monday, August 12, 2013 in Nixon. Because of your very dynamic impact during the 1980s , we'd like to include in our first edition comments from you with memories, thoughts, recommendations, etc - anything you'd like to share as a former Nixon newspaper publisher/editor. Please send to With high hopes, Key Garner