Michigan (5-2) vs. Minnesota (4-3)
Time: 6:00 P.M CT, Saturday, October 31th
TV: ESPN - Brad Nessler (play-by-play), Todd Blackledge (Analyst) and Holly Rowe (Sideline)
Last week: Both teams on bye
All-time series: Wolverines lead the series 73-25-3 (30-24 Minnesota in Ann Arbor, September 2014)
Vegas betting line: Michigan (-13.5)
Know Your Enemy: Five questions with Michigan beat writer Brice Marich
Five things you need to know
1) Minnesota hosts Michigan on Saturday, as the two teams will battle for one of the best rivalry trophies in all of college football: The Little Brown Jug. The Jug, unbeknownst to either team, was first played for on Oct. 31, 1903 (112 years to the day of this year’s game) as Michigan mistakenly left it in Minneapolis after the two teams tied 6-6. Minnesota’s custodian Oscar Munson found the jug the next day and took it to L.J. Cooke, who was in charge of the athletic department. Michigan wrote Cooke a letter asking for the jug back, to which Cooke replied, “If you want it back, you’ll have to win it back.” And with that, the tradition of The Little Brown Jug was born. The Gophers snapped a six-game losing streak to the Wolverines last season when they won 30-14 in Ann Arbor. Minnesota had previously won the Jug in 2005, when it won 23-20 on a last-second field goal on the road. Minnesota last won the Jug at home in 1977, when it upset No. 1 Michigan 16-0 at Memorial Stadium. The Wolverines are 69-23-3 against the Gophers when The Little Brown Jug is on the line.
2) Michigan enters Saturday’s game ranked No. 15 in the AP poll. The Wolverines will be the third ranked team that Minnesota will play this season, as the Gophers opened the season hosting No. 2 TCU and played at No. 16 Northwestern. Dating back to last season - and including Saturday’s game - Minnesota will play seven of 12 games against ranked teams. The Gophers ended last year with four straight games against ranked foes in No. 8 Ohio State, No. 21 Nebraska, No. 14 Wisconsin and No. 16 Missouri. After Saturday, the Gophers will play No. 1 Ohio State (8-0) on Nov. 7 and No. 10 Iowa (7-0) on Nov. 14, meaning that Minnesota will play three straight games against a top-15 team. The last time that happened was 2002 when the Gophers played No. 6 Ohio State, No. 13 Michigan and No. 6 Iowa. Minnesota is also in a stretch of playing nine of 14 games against ranked opponents. The last time Minnesota faced a stretch of schedule this difficult was during the 1990-91 seasons, when it also faced nine ranked opponents in 14 games. The Gophers ended 1990 with games against No. 24 Michigan State, No. 16 Michigan and No. 13 Iowa. In 1991, Minnesota played 11 games and six were against ranked teams in No. 4 Michigan, No. 8 Iowa, No. 18 Pittsburgh, No. 19 Colorado, No. 19 Ohio State and No. 22 Illinois.
3) Minnesota is 8-7-4 all time on Oct. 31. One of the ties is the original Little Brown Jug game, which was a 6-6 tie in 1903. The Gophers last played on Oct. 31 in 2009, which was the first year of TCF Bank Stadium. Minnesota beat Michigan State 42-34 at home in a sold-out night game.
4) Minnesota’s four home games (TCF capacity is 52,525) this year have sold out. A stadium record 54,147 fans attended the TCU game, while 52,823 watched the Kent State game, 53,917 were at the Ohio game and 54,062 attended the Nebraska game. Prior to 2015, Minnesota’s last home sellout was Nov. 23, 2013 against Wisconsin. Minnesota played in front of three sold-out home crowds from 2011-14.
5) Minnesota is 10-7 in its last 17 Big Ten regular season games, which is the fifth-best mark in the league during that span. Ohio State is 17-0, Michigan State is 16-1, Wisconsin is 14-3 and Iowa is 11-6.
Michigan players to watch
1) De'Veon Smith, running back: In this run-first Wolverine offense, De'Veon Smith is the back to watch. Smith has 96 carries on the season, averaging 4.5 yards per carry and four touchdowns, he's the guy you'll be seeing getting a lot of work Saturday.
2) Sione Houma, full back: Michigan uses their fullbacks like no team Minnesota has seen this season and they're a legitimate threat each and every time the Wolverine offense is on the field. Houma only has 16 carries on the season, but is averaging almost 6 YPC on those touches and has three touchdowns.
3) Willie Henry, defensive tackle: Henry is going to be a problem for the interior of the Gophers offensive line on Saturday night. Henry only has 19 total tackles on the season, but has nine tackles for loss and six sacks through seven games. Tyler Moore and both guards have to keep him in check if Minnesota is going to retain the Little Brown Jug.
Keys to the game
1. Quick start: There's going to be a tremendous amount of energy and emotion around TCF Bank Stadium Saturday night and the Gophers need to capitalize on that early. It's been well documented how Minnesota has been sluggish in the first quarter as their opponents are outscoring them 47-10 and if they're going to keep the Little Brown Jug, that has to change starting tomorrow night. Limegrover and this Gopher offense have to have something up their sleeve as Michigan's defense is averaging less then 10 points a game. For an offense that was sputtering a bit, that can't happen if the Gophers are going to win.
2. Establish the running game: Feed Shannon Brooks and Rodney Smith until their legs fall off. No, but in all seriousness, this offensive line has to come out pissed off and ready to handle a very stout Michigan front seven that's been playing extremely well. Brooks and Smith have made the best of the holes they've got in recent weeks, but the more holes this offensive line can open, the better chance Minnesota has to win.
3. Big Plays: I sound like a broken record, but Minnesota has only two plays over 40 yards this season through seven games, and I think that'll have to change if the Gophers are going to win at home against Michigan. There's going to a lot of emotion in a jam-packed stadium tomorrow night between the Flip Saunders passing, Jerry Kill retiring, Halloween night on national television and the facilities being broken today and big plays can absolutely flip the momentum in this game in a hurry.