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MnB B1G Preview 2013: Michigan vs. Minnesota - The Classics

It's the oldest trophy game in FBS football. With the 94th battle for the Little Brown Jug coming on October 5th, let's look back on some crucial games for both sides.

Leon Halip

The Michigan-Minnesota football match-up didn't begin with the Little Brown Jug. Their first meeting came in 1892 and the two teams played six games (Michigan going 4-2) before the Jug became the rivalry's trophy. The story of how the Little Brown Jug became the first trophy in FBS football starts in 1903. The Wolverines entered Minneapolis that year on a 29-game unbeaten streak and the Minnesota Golden Gophers showed up with a 10-0 record on the season. Doubtful that the Golden Gophers would provide the Wolverines with clean water, Fielding Yost had a team manager - Tommy Roberts - purchase a five-gallon jug for the team to bring their own water. Minnesota stifled Michigan that day, holding them to one touchdown, and tied the game at six with two minutes remaining. In the excitement of the moment, the Minnesota fans rushed the field and the game was called with time remaining. Michigan left the jug behind in the bedlam and Minnesota's equipment manager - Oscar Munson - retrieved it. To celebrate the game, Minnesota's athletic director at the time - L.J. Cooke - painted on the side of the jug: "Michigan Jug - Captured by Oscar, October 31, 1903" with the score "Minnesota 6 - Michigan 6." Stories differ as to why the teams chose to play for the Jug in their next meeting in 1909. Some say Yost wrote to Minnesota asking for the Jug back, and Cooke challenged him to come get it. Others say that the two sides agreed to play for the Jug to help strengthen the rivalry.

Regardless of its creation, the battle over the Little Brown Jug celebrates its 94th anniversary this October 5th in the Michigan's Homecoming game. Throughout the rivalry, Michigan's had the upper hand, going 72-24-3 overall against Minnesota, and 68-22-3 in the Jug games. Since 1968, Michigan has only lost the Little Brown Jug three times in 41 games. But even though Ann Arbor houses the Jug more often than Minneapolis, the Golden Gophers had some dominant stretches in the rivalry: from '34 to '42, Minnesota won nine straight games, and from '60 to '67, Minnesota won 6 of the 8 games played. Currently, the Little Brown Jug resides in Schembechler Hall, with Michigan on a five-game winning streak since 2006.

November 15th, 1986, Michigan 17 - Minnesota 20

In 1986, Minnesota was in the middle of its '70s and '80s doldrums, coming into the Michigan game at 5-4. On the other side, Michigan was near the top of college football: undefeated at 9-0, ranked #2 in the nation, and coming off a season in which they won the Fiesta bowl and finished #2 overall. Needless to say, Michigan was expected to win, having won 17 of their last 18 meetings with only one victory being decided by single digits. The game shouldn't have been close, but thanks to what Minnesota's Head Coach John Gutekunst called "gutter points," Minnesota stole the game and the Little Brown Jug from the Wolverines. Michigan turned the ball over five times, which resulted in 17 of Minnesota's 20 points. Michigan's defense gave up a 31-yard run late in the 4th quarter, which set up the game-winning field goal as time expired. A win would have given Bo more victories than any other Michigan coach, a feat he would reach the following week against Ohio. It's nice breaking those kinds of records against Ohio, but would've rather crushed Minnesota and tacked on an extra one in Columbus. Even with the loss, Michigan ended up with a share of the Big Ten title and a trip to the Rose Bowl, where they lost to Arizona State. Minnesota would go on to lose in the Liberty Bowl, but their triumphant, upset victory over Michigan crushed the Wolverines National Championship dreams and brought the Little Brown Jug back to Minneapolis for the first time since '77.

October 8th, 2005, Michigan 20 - Minnesota 23

The 2005 version of the Little Brown Jug rivalry game ended a lot like 1986. After sharing the Big Ten title and going to the Rose Bowl the previous season, the Wolverines took a step back in 2005, posting a disappointing 7-5 record and losing in the Alamo Bowl to future Big Ten member Nebraska. However, Michigan played close games all season. They never lost by more than a touchdown and their first five games were decided in the last 24 seconds of the game or overtime. For Minnesota, 2005 saw a team in the middle of a semi-resurgence of Golden Gophers football. From 1999 to 2005, Minnesota was bowl eligible all but one year, notable considering they had been bowl eligible only five times since a National Championship in 1960.

One of those games decided in the last 24 seconds for Michigan was for the Little Brown Jug. The game was a back-and-forth affair, and while Michigan never trailed, every time the Wolverines took a lead, Minnesota battled right back. Michigan's defense couldn't figure out a way to hold offMinnesota's offense, especially their ground attack, which ended with 264 yards on the day. Conversely, Minnesota's defense kept Michigan's offense quiet, holding them to less than 100 yards rushing and only 155 passing, as well as a paltry 3-14 on third downs. With offense lacking, Steve Breaston helped Michigan with a 95-yard kickoff return for a touchdown in the third quarter. Minnesota would tie the game later in the third, and a score of 20-20 would hold until the final minutes. With left in the game, Minnesota sat on their own 26-yard line, facing a 3rd and 9. A stop there gives Michigan the ball back and hopes of a last-second field goal victory, or at the very least, overtime. But the Golden Gophers and running back Gary Russell had different plans. Russell tore through the Wolverines defense for 61 yards on 3rd down, putting the ball at the Michigan 13. Minnesota would kick the game winning field goal with 5 seconds left, sealing Michigan's defeat, and giving the Golden Gophers the Little Brown Jug for the first time since 1986. For Michigan, the loss ended a 16-game winning streak against the Golden Gophers. Watch the painful last drive here. And if you're a masochist, a longer replay of the game here.

October 10th, 2003, Michigan 38 - Minnesota 35

The Wolverines were deep into the successful Lloyd Carr-era when Michigan flew to Minneapolis to play the Golden Gophers on a Friday night in 2003. For the first time since 1957, both teams entered the game ranked, with Minnesota on the upswing and Michigan reeling from some early season letdowns. At 6-0, Minnesota was undefeated and ranked #17, while Michigan was #20 at 4-2. Coupled with the fact that this was the 100th meeting between the teams and Michigan had won the last 14 against Minnesota, the game held excitement well before opening kickoff. However, the game went from exciting to unbelievable thanks to John Navarre and the Michigan offense.

In the first half, Minnesota built a 14-0 lead, completely shutting down Michigan's offense. Going into halftime,Michigan didn't have much working for them, but that would change early in the third quarter when this happened. You gotta love seeing John Navarre run that transcontinental. It's beautiful. However, the Golden Gophers responded with two more 3rd quarter touchdowns, putting themselves in an almost-perfect position to close out the game in the 4th quarter. But the lead was almost-perfect. Almost. Most teams don't come back from 28-7 in the 4th quarter to win the game. Most teams don't blow that lead. Most teams aren't the 2003 Michigan Wolverines who came back from that deficit, setting the record for the largest comeback in Michigan football history.

The Wolverines started the 4th quarter with a quick touchdown pass, followed by a 35-yard interception return for a touchdown on Minnesota's next drive. Minnesota's offensive leader and quarterback Asad Abdul-Khaliq would respond with a touchdown on a 52-yard run up the middle. Luckily, the drive was short and gave Michigan a chance with a little over 11 minutes remaining and Minnesota leading 35-21. Navarre would make quick work of the Gopher's defense, hitting Braylon Edwards for a 52-yard touchdown pass on a drive that lasted less than a minute. The Wolverines added another touchdown on the ground with remaining, tying the game at 35. Hopes dwindling, Minnesota went 3-and-out on their next drive, giving Michigan the ball near midfield. On the ensuing drive, Navarre rushed for 2 yards to convert a 4-and-1 with remaining at the Minnesota 49. The game almost became Minnesota's again at that point. Almost. A stop on 4th down gives them the ball at midfield, plenty of time to get into field goal range, and the opportunity to hand Michigan another heartbreaking loss. But they didn't, and Garret Rivas punched in the game-winning field goal with 47 seconds remaining. Michigan intercepted a pass on Minnesota's last drive, capping off one of the most exciting games in Michigan football history. Watch an abridged 4th quarter here and the entire comeback here.