After a disappointing loss in a trophy game last week, the good news for Minnesota is that it has a chance to bounce back and win another trophy this Saturday. Unfortunately, that might also be the bad news.
The optimism around the Gophers' 4-0 start took a major hit last week when Iowa came to TCF Bank Stadium and kept Floyd of Rosedale in a convincing 23-7 win. Now, Minnesota must regroup in time for a trip to Michigan in the battle for the Little Brown Jug.
"We know the jug hasn't been around here in a really long time, and we're out to get that jug back," junior safety Cedric Thompson told ESPN.com. "That helps us get over the loss and gives us more of a drive to go out and win this game."
Historically speaking, however, Michigan is about the last team that could help the Gophers get back on track. The Wolverines have bogarted the jug over the years; Minnesota has won just three times in this series since 1968, the last one coming in 2005. Things have really been lopsided of late, as Michigan has won the past four meetings by a combined score of 156-29.
"I've never even seen the jug except for a picture of it," Thompson said.
Of course, the Wolverines aren't exactly coming into this one on a roll despite their 4-0 record, either. They nearly lost to both Akron and UConn the last two times out, and to add to that indignity, UConn fired its head coach this week after getting trounced by Buffalo.
"Just the fact they almost lost to Akron, they’re human,” Minnesota defensive tackle Ra’Shede Hageman told the Minneapolis Star-Tribune. “You know what I mean? Everybody praises them to be elite, and I just feel like they’re a regular football team."
Still, the Gophers will have to play much better than they did against Iowa, when some troubling old patterns re-emerged.
After their early-season success running the ball and stopping other teams from doing the same, coaches and players went into last week confident that they had improved enough to no longer get pushed around in Big Ten contests. Instead, the Hawkeyes dominated the lines of scrimmage and especially so on defense, where they held Minnesota to just 165 total yards and 30 yards on the ground.
"Fundamentally, they did a better job than we did," head coach Jerry Kill said. "They used their hands better, their feet, and we had trouble moving them and executing. We just didn't ever get in a rhythm and execute very well."
Minnesota players and coaches insisted this week that last week's effort wasn't indicative of talent or strength issues. Thompson said Iowa "just came out a little harder and a little tougher than we did." Offensive lineman Jon Christenson blamed poor blocking techniques.
Clearly, something will have to change this week against a Michigan team that's probably more skilled than Iowa, even if the Wolverines are not the same type of power run team. Minnesota's passing attack remains mostly a rumor as its quarterbacks have combined to complete just 45 total passes in five games.
The Gophers remain motivated to fulfill Kill's goal of springing a signature upset this season, something the coach says is necessary for all programs to turn a corner. Kill keeps a replica of the little brown jug on his desk. He and his team would love to get their hands on the real thing, but they know the way they played last week won't cut it.
“As a program, we want to keep moving forward,” Kill said. “We took a step back on Saturday. But that happens, and now we need to take two steps forward.”.