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Examining Michigan’s recent history vs. Minnesota and in one-score games

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Michigan’s advantage in one-score games vs. Minnesota might come into play this week.

Michigan v Minnesota Photo by Hannah Foslien/Getty Images

The Michigan Wolverines and Minnesota Golden Gophers renew their rivalry on Saturday night in the first Saturday primetime game of the Big Ten season. The Wolverines currently hold on to the famed Little Brown Jug, but will defend on perhaps the biggest stage the first week of the season can provide.

A ranked opponent. A road game. ESPN’s College GameDay in attendance. A national kickoff on ABC.

Other than no fans, this is about as tough an opener as a team with so many question marks can go through. Some of us think we know what Michigan and Minnesota will feature on Saturday, but we cannot truly know until toe meets leather in Minneapolis.

All we can go by now is what we have seen historically both in the rivalry and in the Jim Harbaugh era at Michigan. The Wolverines have an all-time record of 75-25-3 and have lost only four times in the last 53 years to the Gophers.

Most of those Minnesota teams were relative pushovers, but that will not be the case on Saturday. Depending on which sports book you frequent or put the most stock into, Michigan comes into the game as a slight favorite after Minnesota opened offshore as a slight favorite. The consensus on this game by many is that they expect it to be close, so let’s look at how these two teams have fared in these types of contests historically.

Well, it has not happened a heck of a lot since many of you have been alive. Michigan hold an all-time advantage of 19-11-3 in one-score showdowns, but only seven have been played since 1965. The Wolverines are 5-2 in those contests with the lone losses coming in 1986 and 2005, both in Ann Arbor. Michigan has not lost a one-score game at Minnesota since 1965.

Here’s the full chart:

Michigan vs. Minnesota all-time in one-score games

Year Location Score
Year Location Score
1892 Minneapolis 14-6 L
1896 Minneapolis 6-4 W
1903 Minneapolis 6-6 T
1910 Ann Arbor 6-0 W
1920 Minneapolis 3-0 W
1926 Minneapolis 7-6 W
1927 Ann Arbor 13-7 L
1929 Minneapolis 7-6 W
1930 Ann Arbor 7-0 W
1931 Ann Arbor 6-0 W
1932 Minneapolis 3-0 W
1933 Ann Arbor 0-0 T
1938 Minneapolis 7-6 L
1940 Minneapolis 7-6 L
1941 Ann Arbor 7-0 L
1942 Minneapolis 16-14 L
1947 Ann Arbor 13-6 W
1949 Ann Arbor 14-7 W
1950 Minneapolis 7-7 T
1955 Minneapolis 14-13 W
1958 Ann Arbor 20-19 W
1959 Minneapolis 14-6 W
1961 Minneapolis 23-20 L
1963 Minneapolis 6-0 L
1964 Ann Arbor 19-12 W
1965 Minneapolis 14-13 L
1975 Minneapolis 28-21 W
1986 Ann Arbor 20-17 L
1998 Minneapolis 15-10 W
2003 Minneapolis 38-35 W
2004 Ann Arbor 27-24 W
2005 Ann Arbor 23-20 L
2015 Minneapolis 29-26 W
Record 19-11-3

So history is on Michigan’s side here, right? Statistically speaking, yes. Even Jim Harbaugh has an advantage over the Gophers with a 2-0 record, one of which was the Halloween goal line stand victory in 2015 and a home blowout in 2017.

That said, why does this feel like the type of game that Michigan has historically lost under Harbaugh? For one, Minnesota is a much better team than three seasons ago and is expected to compete for a Big Ten Championship. The other might have to do with Michigan’s struggles at times in these types of situations.

Michigan is 7-9 since 2015 in one-score contests. Seven of those nine losses have come away from Ann Arbor.

Michigan’s one-score games under Jim Harbaugh

Year Opponent Score
Year Opponent Score
2015 at Utah 24-17 L
2015 vs. Michigan State 27-23 L
2015 at Minnesota 29-26 W
2015 at Indiana 48-41 W (2OT)
2016 vs. Wisconsin 14-7 W
2016 at Iowa 14-13 L
2016 at Ohio State 30-27 L (2OT)
2016 vs. Florida State 33-32 L
2017 vs. Michigan State 14-10 L
2017 at Indiana 27-20 W (OT)
2017 vs. South Carolina 26-19 L
2018 at Notre Dame 24-17 L
2018 at Northwestern 20-17 W
2019 vs. Army 24-21 W (2OT)
2019 vs. Iowa 10-3 W
2019 at Penn State 28-21 L
Record: 7-9
Record away from Ann Arbor: 4-7

For comparison’s sake, Minnesota is 9-4 in one-score games since PJ Fleck was hired in 2017. If you throw out a 1-3 mark during his first season, the Gophers are 8-1 since then. However, this comes with a bit of an asterisk given the competition, which you will see in the chart below.

Minnesota’s one-score games under PJ Fleck

Year Opponent Score
Year Opponent Score
2017 vs. Maryland 31-24 L
2017 vs. Michigan State 30-27 L
2017 vs. Illinois 24-17 W
2017 at Iowa 17-10 L
2018 vs. Fresno State 21-14 W
2018 vs. Indiana 38-31 W
2019 vs. South Dakota State (FCS) 28-21 W
2019 at Fresno State 38-31 W (2OT)
2019 vs. Georgia Southern 35-32 W
2019 at Purdue 38-31 W
2019 vs. Penn State 31-26 W
2019 at Iowa 23-19 L
2019 vs. Auburn 31-24 W
Record: 9-4 (8-1 since 2018)

So based on this, who holds the advantage? That’s tough to say, but the records obviously favor Minnesota.

The Gophers’ 31-26 win over Penn State from last season might be the closest thing to what we could see Saturday. The difference in that one came down to a clean game from Tanner Morgan (18-for-20, 339 yards, 3 TD, 0 INT) and a not-so-clean game from Penn State signal-caller Sean Clifford (23-for-43, 340 yards, 1 TD, 3 INT). Minnesota’s win was also fueled by a massive day from wideout Rashod Bateman, who finished the game with 7 catches for 203 yards and a touchdown.

So, it might go without saying that quarterback play and containing Minnesota’s biggest weapon will be a key to victory on Saturday. Otherwise, it might be another one in the loss column on this type of stage from Michigan.