Michigan looks like Michigan again in 29-6 thumping of Gophers
By Jon Krawczynski
MINNEAPOLIS — Through the best and worst of times, the Metrodome has proven to be a safe haven for Michigan.
So count the Wolverines as some of the very few who will be sad to see Minnesota move out of this drab, dingy building next year and into sparkling new TCF Bank Stadium.
Forget what has happened to the Wolverines in nearly every other stadium this season. Under the Dome’s big pillowy top, Michigan is still Michigan.
The much-maligned Wolverines defense swarmed like the Michigan of old and the ground game racked up 232 yards in a 29-6 victory on Saturday over the Gophers that keeps the Little Brown Jug where it has resided for most of its existence.
"It’s just one win," first-year coach Rich Rodriguez said. "But at the same time, it’s been a long time and I’m happy to see it."
K.C. Lopata tied a school record with five field goals and Greg Mathews had six catches for 79 yards and a touchdown for Michigan (3-7, 2-4 Big Ten), which snapped a five-game losing streak that knocked it out of bowl season for the first time in 35 years.
In 12 games at the Metrodome, Michigan has never lost.
"Just happy to get a win," quarterback Nick Sheridan said. "Wherever it is."
Adam Weber had a rough day for Minnesota (7-3, 3-3), throwing for just 105 yards and managing a career low 114 total yards. He was sacked four times and intercepted once, looking lost without roommate and star receiver Eric Decker, who tried to play on a badly sprained ankle but sat out the entire second half.
"There’s no way to put a prettier dress or a more positive spin on the ball game today," Minnesota coach Tim Brewster said. "We just didn’t play well."
Morgan Trent had the interception and crushed Decker, the Big Ten’s leading receiver, on his only catch of the game.
"We just executed," Trent said. "We played Michigan defense. We played together. We’ve seen glimpses all year, but putting it together for a whole game is what counts."
The Gophers were sloppy from the start; no match for a feisty Michigan defense that entered the game last in the Big Ten in scoring defense and passing defense.
They were outgained 435-188 and managed only one first down in a mistake-filled first half. It was the first time in Brewster’s 22-game tenure that the Gophers haven’t scored a touchdown.
Michigan’s defense simply wouldn’t allow it. After giving up an average of 43 points a game in the last three weeks, the Wolverines tied a season low with their six points allowed on two field goals by Joel Monroe.
"We knew that their record doesn’t show what type of team they have," Weber said. "They’re still Michigan. They still have the players that Michigan gets."
Now, after a surprising 7-1 start that had the Gophers thinking about a New Year’s Day bowl game, Minnesota has lost two in a row with remaining games left at Wisconsin and home against Iowa.
"This was a big football game," Brewster said. "We’re all very disappointed with the outcome."
After watching Northwestern backup quarterback Mike Kafka rush for 217 yards last week to hand the Gophers a crushing homecoming loss, Rodriguez sprinkled in fleet-footed freshman Justin Feagin throughout the game to take direct snaps off tackle.
Feagin’s 34-yard dash late in the second quarter set up an 8-yard scoring pass from Sheridan to Mathews that gave Michigan a 16-0 lead.
Sheridan, who started for the injured Steven Threet, threw for 203 yards and rushed for 33 and Feagin rushed for 49 yards on seven carries.
A vocal contingent of Michigan backers chanted "Let’s Go Blue!" as the fourth quarter opened with their team up 22-3, the first time in six weeks they have had them anything to cheer about.
Mark Moundros added a late touchdown run for the Wolverines, who calmly walked to the sideline at the game’s conclusion to hoist the 90-year-old Jug, college football’s oldest rivalry trophy.
But as Brewster said earlier in the week, this has been no rivalry. Minnesota has taken the Jug home just twice in the last 31 years.
"It’s nice," Rodriguez said, "to see a bunch of guys with smiles on their faces."