In the 100th meeting in the Battle for the Little Brown Jug, the Michigan football team knocked off Minnesota 42-13. Michigan (5-0, 1-0 B1G) was able to overcome a lackluster performance in its previous two games and defeat Minnesota (4-2, 0-2).
The Wolverines got off to a slow start in the first half but were able to score 28 points in the second half to pull away from the Golden Gophers. It was by no means a perfect game, but Michigan looked like an improved team for the most part, a welcome sign for Michigan fans everywhere.
Sophomore tight end (wide receiver) Devin Funchess had a huge day to lead the Wolverines offense. The 6 foot 5 inch Funchess was targeted more on Saturday than any other game this season. He finished the contest with seven catches for 151 yards and a touchdown. Funchess lined up at tight end, wide receiver and even in the slot to spread him around the field.
Michigan head coach Brady Hoke made it clear that moving Funchess around was in their game plan.
“We obviously planned it that way,” said Hoke. “Getting him out in the perimeter a little bit and just trying to really take advantage of his skill set.”
Quarterback Devin Gardner had a quietly solid game as well. After a couple games where turnovers became a serious issue for him and the Wolverines, they played a turnover free contest for the first time since 2011.
“That was huge,” said Hoke. “No turnovers, two penalties. So I think that speaks to how these guys have really worked in the bye week”
Gardner didn’t thrill or make any huge plays, but he managed the game well and his decision-making was much improved. Gardner finished the game 13 of 17 passing for 235 yards and a touchdown.
If Michigan hopes to make a run for a Big Ten Championship, it will need more performances like this from No. 98.
The shakeup in the offensive line — Graham Glasgow sliding over to take Jack Miller’s spot and Chris Bryant to take Glasgow’s left guard spot — was something everyone paid attention to on Saturday.
The offensive line appeared to have improved over past weeks for the most part. With those improvements, Michigan was able to establish the ground game early and also gave Gardner time to make good decisions, as he was sacked just once.
Michigan wanted to send the message that they were going to run the football early. On their opening drive, they ran the ball every play as they made their way to the endzone. Gardner was under center a lot in the first half.
“We wanted to run the ball,” said Hoke. “And I thought we did a pretty good job of it. We didn’t have as much yardage probably as we’d like to have from that aspect, but I really believe the threat was there consistently throughout the game that we were gonna run the football.”
As a team, Michigan racked up 113 yards on on 35 carries, an average of 3.2 yards a carry. That doesn’t look great on paper, but they Wolverines were able to run the ball effectively at times.
Coming into the game, Michigan wanted to get some other guys some carries. Senior starting running back Fitzgerald Toussaint still carried the load with 17 carries for 78 yards and two scores, but they also got freshman Derrick Green some looks. Green finished with 10 carries for 23 yards and a touchdown. Gardner didn’t have a big game on the ground but did add a rushing touchdown late in the game.
Defensively Michigan played a pretty decent game. Take away Minnesota’s second drive of the game and you could say the defense played really well. On that drive, the Gophers drove the field, chewed 9:44 off the clock and capped things off with a touchdown pass from Mitch Leidner to Maxx Williams.
Leidner, who looked to be a game-time decision to start at quarterback, was able to scramble around pretty effectively against the Michigan defense. The Wolverines have had problems with running quarterbacks in the past, and Leidner took advantage of that, especially early.
After the Minnesota touchdown drive to end the first quarter, the defense held the Gophers to just six points the rest of the way.
Hoke was pleased with the way the defense adjusted after the long drive in the first.
“I think the second half was real good,” said Hoke. “I think on the first drive, they converted on third down three times on him (Leidner) running the ball.”
James Ross III was one of the top defensive performers as he finished with nine tackles and a fumble recovery on Minnesota’s first drive to set up a Michigan touchdown. Desmond Morgan also had a big day with his 10 tackles. Cam Gordon recorded Michigan’s only sack of the game. Blake Countess put the game away late with a 72 yard interception return for a touchdown, his fourth interception of the season.
Other game notes
– Prior to the contest on Saturday morning, Minnesota head coach Jerry Kill, who has battled epilepsy, had a seizure forcing him to miss the game.
– Matt Wile had a vastly improved performance, averaging 51.7 yards on three punts, including one downed at the 1 yard-line.
– Minnesota relies on its running game for most of its offensive production. In last week’s game against Iowa, the Hawkeyes limited the Gophers to just 30 yards rushing. Against Michigan, Minnesota racked up 136 yards. Leidner (who did not play against Iowa) was the leading rusher with 66 yards.
Next week, Michigan will travel to Happy Valley as they will face off against Penn State. The Nittany Lions were defeated by Indiana yesterday 44-24. The Wolverines will be challenged in a hostile environment in their third “night game” of the season. The game kicks off at 5 p.m. and will be broadcast on ESPN.
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