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Thursday, September 28, 2006

Minnesota—Hockey, Lakes, Mosquitoes

Apparently, one additional benefit to beating a #2 ranked Notre Dame on national television is that more of your games get televised. Or, at least more get televised to us folks who live in remote parts of the country. That means that for the third Saturday in a row, Michigan will be on television, this time against Minnesota. And Bo said that rivalry game is overrated.

Don't forget the OFF guys!

What do we know about Minnesota? Well, Michigan and Minnesota play for the Little Brown Jug. It's a trophy that exists because Michigan coach Fielding Yost didn't trust the University of Minnesota to provide safe drinking water to his team and brought along his own to preserve the purity of his athlete's precious bodily fluids. That 1903 game also had to be called at a 6-6 tie because Minnesota fans stormed the field. Oh, and after Michigan forgot the jug, Minnesota refused to just give it back. Thus, distrust and poor sportsmanship combine to make the oldest trophy in college football.

What's easy to forget about Minnesota is that there was a time when they were a college football powerhouse. History calls those years "the road to World War Two." Minnesota won mythical national championships in 1934, 1935, 1936, 1940, and 1941. Try and top that USC! OK, to be completely accurate those years were "pre" World War Two for just the United States. And, Minnesota got another MNC in 1960. Things, however, have changed.

The script for a Minnesota football season lately has generally been something along theses lines: After an offseason of controversy that involves head coach Glen Mason covetously eyeing the Ohio State head coaching job—note to law enforcement authorities: should Jim Tressel ever die under suspicious circumstances, don't look in Ann Arbor, the first person you want to talk to is Glen Mason—Minnesota tallies a record of something like 5-0 or 6-0 by featuring a rushing attack of multiple 100+-yards-per-game tailbacks and some cupcakery with their non-conference schedule. Minnesota then loses to Michigan—often in heartbreaking fashion—and then spends the rest of the season in a Michigan State-like tailspin before eeking out enough wins to make it to the Music City Bowl. Maybe.

This year, things are a little different. First, Minnesota actually played a somebody for a non-conference game. This decision probably seemed like a fantastic idea after Cal got thumped by Tennessee but then reality set in and Cal took out their frustrations on the Golden Gophers. Second, Minnesota has now already lost two games. Third, Minnesota actually won against Michigan last year.

What does remain the same is that Minnesota runs the ball well and has a couple of guys they can go to. Minnesota is 8th in the country in rushing offense and averages 226 yards on the ground per game. So, for the second straight week, the opponent's strength meets Michigan's strength. We all know how that worked out last week. Praise be to Ron English. Also, Brian Cupito is completing about 63% of his passes and averages 185 yards through the air. On offense, Minnesota is statistically stronger than Wisconsin, but the defenses they've faced have ranged from awful to below average.

Still, statistically, this is the best overall offense Michigan has faced all year. Minnesota might actually be able to break 100 yards on the ground, but I doubt it'll be much more than that. The defense they're about to face is unlike anything they've seen so far. This should be enjoyable and interesting to watch. I thought Wisconsin played reasonably well, all things considered, and they were pretty much shut down after their opening drive.

On the other side of the ball, Minnesota's defense is statistically awful. Against the run, they're 82nd in the nation and 9th in the Big Ten. Against the pass, they're 91st in the nation and 11th in the Big Ten. That's almost a punchline: "Out of all the teams in the Big Ten, Minnesota 's pass defense ranks 11th." Ba-dum-ching! Yeah, I know there are eleven teams in the conference. Total defense is 84th in the nation and 10th in the Big Ten. This defense is at the bottom of the Big Ten, a conference with teams like Illinois, Indiana, Northwestern, and Purdue who--although still undefeated—ranks 105th in the nation in total defense. Minnesota's defense is on a par with Vanderbilt. Mario Manningham, you'll want to warm up and stretch very thoroughly before this game.

In other recent years, this game is a "shootout." I can still remember the 424 yards Minnesota gained on the ground in 2003. It was like they had three Vince Young clones in the backfield. This year, with this defense, the shootout is going to be one-sided. Brian Cupito and company, say hello to the concepts of negative yardage, three and out, and pressure that has you making bad throws. Even the Minnesota fans over at GopherHole.com aren't optimistic, even if their game preview is.

I should caveat all this with the fact that I haven't seen a Minnesota game this year—was kind of busy watching the Michigan-Wisconsin game last Saturday—and really don't know anything about them other than their record and how they rank statistically. Also factoring into this game, Michigan has never lost in the Metrodome. Prior to last year's loss, the last time Michigan lost to Minnesota was 1986. There's also that silly flag planting thing that is apparently all the rage on teams prone to spiraling downward after a big loss. Plant flag on other team's field after a win, lose the will to live after a big loss, the two must go hand in hand. And, Michigan is sure to be out to avenge last year's loss. I guess a 7-5 season does have a silver lining after all.


Allaha said...

I appreciate the humor, passion, and knowledge of your posts -- which is why I cannot understand why you have not written banner headlines trumpeting the fact that UM currently has the best rushing defense in the country, allowing opponents less than 20 yards per game. I have emailed Yost on this point more times than the USC trainer has called the cheerleader for a follow up look, er treatment session, but still no post on UM's defensive dominance.

Is it that you are trying to stay humble, unimpressed by the accomplishment, or fearful of antagonizing the football gods (if not necessarily the Gopher rushing attack)? As a Texas fan, I know all too well the time for bragging is all too brief.

Chris of Dangerous Logic said...

Somebody oughta find the two mental defectives who picked 'Minnesota by 15+' in the GopherHole "What is your Minnesota vs. Michigan prediction?" poll and take away their Intarweb licenses...

beast in bama said...

Minnesota is third in the number of Big 10/11 football titles won with 18 - only Michigan and Ohio State have more. They have all those MNCs that Baggy mentioned.

For the first half of the last century, many times it was Big 3 vs. Little 7, with Minnesota in the discussion most years.

But the last CONFERENCE championship the Gophers won was in 1967 - and that was a three-way tie!

I've wondered this for years: whatever happened to Minnesota? They have this great history, but we're going to have to phone an archeologist to find it if this mediocrity continues for another decade.

Sure, it's probably hard to recruit there, but it can't be THAT bad. They have the largest student enrollment in the Big 10/11. I have relatives up there - they really like it. It's clean. The people are nice - a little aloof, maybe - but nice.

Cold is no excuse. It gets cold in Madison, East Lansing, Ann Arbor - you've all done better than Minnesota since 1967.

Is it the ugly uniforms? They have those at Champaign, Evanston, and East Lansing. Even Northwestern has won a conference title since 1967!

Is it the curse of the Metrodome? The Vikings haven't had sustained success since they tore down Metropolitan Stadium in Bloomington.

I'm stumped. Can someone explain this to me?

Q1Go said...

Hey, I was looking on youtube, because I wanted to refresh my memory of last year's tragedy, just to gear up for Saturday, but I couldn't find a highlight reel - anybody know where I can find one?

Anonymous said...

Minnesota ran a progam in the 1940's that allowed world war 2 vets to go to school for free. You had a bunch of marines that just came back from Iwo Jima and the Marshall islands facing off against a bunch of snot nosed 19 year olds. I don't know about you but I will take the marines every day and twice on Saturday. I had two uncles on the team in the mid 40's and they still talk about the fear in the eyes of their opponents. All in all having the vikings playing in the same area and the same stadium takes away from attendance and interest. Ask anyone from Minnesota who their favorite team is and they'll say the Vikings without hesitation or thought of gophers college football. A big shame really since there is nothing as pure and exciting as a bunch of guys simply playing for the love of the game and each other. Pro fans just don't get it. I officially began hating the pros when Jim McMahon suited up for the Vikings. WTF.. One other thing I don't think telling a kid he could be a gopher ranks high on the list of things a recruit wants to hear. Maybe we could change our name to the Fighting Elmo's.

Benny Friedman said...

q1go, Evidently the Michigan alumni cartel that control these here Internets have been effective in wiping away any memory of last year's disaster. Well almost. Check out the great Michigan blog iBlog for Cookies' only highlight you need to see.

harry hasselhoff said...

To Cory at the Gopher Hole (author of their game preview) - where exactly is this Sound Bend where Michigan destroyed Notre Dame?

Are you writing your columns using T9?

beast in 'bama said...

Care for some gopher?

No thank you, Delmar. One third of a gopher would only arouse my appetite without bedding it down.

Oh, you can have the whole thing. Me and Pete already had one apiece. We ran across a whole... gopher village.

ejhuerta said...

Just a quick point of clarification, but the Territorial Cup is the oldest rivarly trophy in the NCAA.

- Enrique

Behind Enemy Lines said...

Not to change the subject here but I think that there is something going to happen in Iowa City for the Iowa/OSU game Saturday night at the same time as the Mich/Minn game. ESPN Game Day is only adding to the powder key of Iowa fans and their biggest game @ kinnick since 1985 (#1vs#2Mich). There are hoards of people leaving work as early as Thursday to get to Iowa City for this Saturday night game. They go with tons of enthusiasm but worse tons of alcohol. Fans are not officially allowed to tailgate until Saturday morning but I know personally that many fans will be drunk probably by 9am. There is a rumor that because this event is so hyped that the university is renting 2 large projector screens to place outside of Kinnick for the fans who weren't lucky enough to spend $500 or more for a ticket can sit and watch while still consuming alcohol. If Iowa is to pull the upset, true mayhem will evolve with thousands of drunk Iowa fans pilleging thru the streets celebrating. You have never really seen couches burning around here but you do often see just about anything that can be airborne become airborne. I first welcome Michigan fans (as am I) to switch over the Iowa/OSU game to see what 80k fired up fans at Iowa looks like (it gets crazy even for cupcake games) but I also am saying that you may want to keep an eye on the blotter the following day for some crazy events after the game that happened the night before. I myself will not be at the game but probably in the comforts of my own home throwing stuff as well.

Andy said...

Anon: Semper Fi. Yes... Marines (even those that wnet to Minnesota) make tough football players.

For as long as I will remain alive, I will never forget that feeling of horror as I watched Rickey Foggie and Chip Lohmiller beat the #2 ranked Wolves in Ann Arbor in 1986. One of the lowest moments in my 4 years sitting in the student section of Michigan Stadium.

beast in 'bama said...

Behind Enemy Lines:
Fans are not officially allowed to tailgate until Saturday morning? Are you kidding me?

Bama fans have been camping out in the parking lot of Ben Hill Griffith Stadium in Gainesville since before Bama could finish the second overtime with Arkansas last Saturday (it's a time warp thing).

LSU fans are already camping out for their next encounter with Auburn - in Auburn - two years from now!

Alright, I might be exagerrating a bit, but are you serious? No tailgating during the week leading up to the game? I thought Iowa was in America!

Behind Enemy Lines said...

I agree, its crazy. But to the university's defense, had there been no rule people would have been taking the whole week off literally to tailgate. Atleast Iowa is still allowed to have night games albeit after this weekend there may be a ban for all time in Iowa City. They won't have them anymore with Iowa State already because of the past and I can see the same thing happening here.

I need to get a login name I guess said...

"...had there been no rule people would have been taking the whole week off literally to tailgate..."

You say that like it's a bad thing... well it is if it's Jawga fans coming to your town, then you have to keep an eye on your kids and livestock, but tailgating like that is generally exprected down here in the SEC (and at a few high schools). Beast wasn't exagerrating by much. I haven't done shit at work all week trying to convince myself that we have a chance to keep it close against Allbarn tonight (we don't by the way).

beast in 'bama said...

Behind Enemy Lines:
We live in the same country, yet we are so far apart...

I'm glad the Iowa/Ohio State game is at night so that I'll get to see it instead of ABC's "regional coverage" featuring Maryland, NC State, or Wake Forest. Call me Deacon Blues.

Behind Enemy Lines said...

Bama, let me rephrase myself... I am glad too that its being played at night except for the fact Mich is playing at the same time. I like night games although I don't know that there is any other games during the day on this Saturday worth watching. Having Iowa on National t.v. at night is big for them as well has the Big Ten. You are right, I don't know what its like down South for the big games as far as tailgating but I am sure that it is a great atmostphere and people really get into it. I also know that tailgating at Iowa is pretty crazy as well even though they really don't allow you to start until game day. I too work with a bunch of crazed Hawk fans and none of them are working Friday and some are going to IC tonight to start at the bars. No matter what, that game on Saturday will be electric and if you can catch a glimpse of it on t.v. you'll see.

beast in 'bama said...

Behind Enemy Lines:
I look forward to it! It should be the best game of the week. Enjoy!

My team - Texas - is playing Sam Houston St. this week, so I'm living vicariously any way that I can!