No. 18 Michigan took it to No. 21 Minnesota in all four quarters on Saturday in Minneapolis, beating the Golden Gophers 49-24 Saturday night to capture the Little Brown Jug. The Gophers announced just before kickoff they would be playing without starters in all three phases of the game, including at right guard, offensive tackle, linebacker, both kicker positions and punter. Every absence made itself evident over the course of the game as the Wolverines improved to 42-4 over their rivals since 1968 with their third straight win in the series.
Ironically, it was Minnesota that struck first, taking a 7-0 lead after blocking a Michigan punt. The Wolverines responded right away with a 70-yard touchdown run by Zach Charbonnet aided by miscommunication on the second level of Minnesota defense.
Michigan’s defense continually put Minnesota QB Tanner Morgan under pressure, and a blitz from the right side of the Minnesota line — where the starters are missing — resulted in Morgan being sacked and fumbling the ball right into the arms of Donovan Jeter, who took it to the house. Minnesota stemmed the bleeding with a field goal drive to make it 14-10, but Michigan returned the ensuing squib kick — remember the missing kickoff specialist — 65 yards to set up another touchdown.
After Michigan took a 28-17 lead late in the first half, Minnesota had a chance to close the gap. Knowing the Gophers would start the second half with the ball and playing without his punter, coach P.J. Fleck decided to run a fake punt at the Minnesota 30 on fourth down. It failed, and Michigan scored another touchdown a few plays later to take a 35-17 lead into the locker room.
The third quarter showed signs of life for the Gophers, as they opened the second half with a touchdown drive but couldn’t stop the Wolverines from responding in kind. That was a theme throughout the night as the Michigan offense stopped itself more than Minnesota’s defense did. Aside from a turnover on downs late in the fourth quarter, the only time Michigan didn’t score after its first possession was when it missed a field goal. It missed three overall, so at least the Michigan coaches have something to be angry about this week.
Here’s four takeaways from Michigan’s impressive victory on Saturday night.
Michigan will be able to run the football
Who knows, maybe Minnesota will go on to have an awful run defense, but one of the biggest problems the Michigan offense had last year was its inability to run consistently. The Wolverines averaged only 3.96 yards per carry, ranking eighth in the Big Ten and 89th nationally. Saturday night presented a marked improvement in that department.
Michigan rushed for 256 yards, averaging an impressive 8.3 per carry. Making it more impressive is that it was a dedicated group effort. Hassan Haskins led the way with 82 yards rushing and two touchdowns, but he was one of three Wolverines to rush for at least 50 yards and one of four players to find the end zone. Charbonnet finished with 70 yards and a touchdown on four carries, while Joe Milton contributed with 52 yards rushing and a score himself. The cherry on top was veteran Chris Evans finding the end…