Michigan and Again and Again. . .

Posted: October 2, 2011 by Kodi in Gopher Redemption, NCAA

The Battle for the Little Brown Jug!

I guess Denard “Shoelace” Robinson learned how to pass!

The Gophers suffer their worst lost since 1991. . .

What do we do from here???

The week didn’t start well for the Gophers as Jerry Kill announced last Sunday that he was going to admit himself to the Mayo Clinic. He and his wife decided that it was in his best interest to have some of the best doctors in the world evaluate his situation. “The seizures continue to be a concern for me and my family . . . and I have made the decision to do what it takes to find a solution. I hope to be back to work soon, but we believe that taking some time away to get a handle on this is the right thing do to.” Jerry Kill seemed to be looking out for his health and well-being but the hardnosed ball coach was back at practice by Thursday.

This was a big game as the Gophers were traveling to Ann Harbor, MI to face the Wolverines and open up Big Ten play. The two teams play for the coveted piece of crockery christened the Little Brown Jug. The LBJ is the oldest rivalry trophy and Minnesota/Michigan is one of the oldest rivalries in all of College Football. There has been 92 games between the Gophers and Wolverines for the coveted LBJ but the series is heavily lopsided in Michigan’s favor who led Minnesota 67-22-3 coming into Saturdays game.

The first LBJ game took place on Oct. 31, 1903 when Michigan Head Coach Fielding Yost brought his Wolverines into Minneapolis riding a 28 game winning streak. The Jug was purchased for 30¢ to carry water for the team because Yost was worried that the water may have been contaminated if provided by the Gophers or their fans. The jug was left at that game and when Yost sent a letter to L.J. Cooke, head of the Minnesota Athletics Department, asking for it to be returned. Cooke wrote “we have your little brown jug; if you want it, you’ll have to win it” in his response to Yost’s inquiry. The battle for the LBJ had begun.

Head Coach Jerry Kill knows how important these trophy games are for the program, comparing them to Bowl Games for his team. Nearly all of Kill’s players were born after 1986 meaning that they have seen the Gophers control the LBJ just once in their lifetimes, in 2005 under former-HC Glen Mason. The only other win for the Gophers since 1978 came in ’86 when they were 25 point underdogs and ended up being the only Loss for the Wolverines who played in the Rose Bowl that season.

Minnesota came into this weekend’s game with high hopes and realistic expectations. The Gopher’s game-plan was completely thrown out the window when MarQueis Gray was ruled out and HC Kill was forced to start true Freshman Max Shortell. Gray missed a lot of practice time throughout the week with a toe injury but it wasn’t until Thursday that Shortell found out he would be starting in the Big House. “We did everything we could to get MarQueis ready to play, but he just wasn’t ready. You can’t play on one leg” Kill explained on his decision to start the true Freshman.

There has been some debate about whether there is a QB controversy in Dinkytown but as Kill said “they can’t do it themselves. They have to have other people pick it up”. The Gophers were facing a team that had allowed just 10 points in the previous two games but nobody was expecting what happened. The Wolverines crushed the Gophers 58-0, Minnesota’s worse loss since being defeated by the Colorado Buffalo in 1991 to the exact same score. It was the worst loss in the LBJ trophy series and tied for the 2nd most points scored in the rivalry.

Michigan dominated in every aspect and the Gophers never had a chance. Minnesota had just 21plays for 12:02 in 6 drives that started with 4 straight punts, followed by a fumble lost and a drive that ended at the half. The Wolverines had 21 First Downs on 41 plays through the first half, scoring 2 rushing TDs, followed by 2 passing TDs, a Field Goal and another passing TD. Michigan was 6/6 in scoring through their first 6 drives of the game and led 38-0 going into halftime. “They are bigger, stronger and faster than we are right now, it’s just that simple” HC Kill said after the game.

The Wolverines added another 20 points in the second half and the victory was capped off by an 83 yard Fumble Recovery returned for a TD. Coming into the game you would expect that Wolverine QB Denard “Shoelace” Robinson would run all over you. After all he is a Heisman Trophy front-runner that rushed 46 times for 398 yards and 4 TDs in the last two games and had completed 15/35 passes for 188 yards, 2 TDs and 3 INTs.

On Saturday Robinson threw for a season high 15 completions and rushed the ball a season low 6 times. Shoelace is known for his feet and his inability to throw the ball accurately. Sound like somebody? I just wish our version played as well as Shoelace does. Robinson connected on his first 11 passes and finished the game 15-19 with 169 yards and 2 TDs. He racked up 51 yards on his 6 rushing attempts including a 9 yard TD in the first quarter.

Shoelace ran for just 51 yards after averaging 138 rushing yards per game on the season thus far. Robinson wasn’t even a top 3 rusher on his team against the Gophers. RB Fitzgerald Toussaint ran the ball 11 times for 108 yards and a TD, while Thomas Rawls had 10 carries for 73 yards and Michael Shaw rushed the ball 8 times for 60 yards. As a team the Wolverines rushed the ball 48 times for 363 yards, averaging 7.6 yards per carry and tallying 3 rushing TDs.

The Gophers played in front of a crowd larger than 110 thousand and not the way you want to start your Collegiate Football career. QB Max Shortell was given his first start of his young career after Gray was left on the sideline due to injury. Shortell finished the game 11-22 with 104 yards and averaged just 4.7 yards per pass. The team was 0-11 on third down conversions and never had a drive with more than 6 plays. The Wolverines had the ball for nearly 13 more minutes and had 26 more offensive plays.

When the young QB was asked about what he expected from Michigan he said “in the film we saw that they did different things, they brought pressure, we expected it. We expected them to give us some chances, some throws outside, and we just didn’t convert them. We put a lot of pressure on our defense. I don’t even think we converted a third down and that’s tough on the defense because they’re out there pretty much the whole game”.

The Gophers did very little to help themselves and the defense was left completely exposed. A QB who normally cannot throw the ball accurately had just 4 incomplete passes. Minnesota had a plethora of missed tackles and bad mental mistakes. The team recorded 9 penalties for 74 yards and it seemed that the Gophers just kept shooting themselves in the foot. The biggest letdown came when a kick return TD was called back. A deflated Kyle Henderson contemplated the events of Saturday and expressed his thoughts to the media – “once things start going bad, it’s kind of like a steam roll or snowball effect. I really do believe that momentum and energy, positive or negative, is a real thing, and today I guess we didn’t have it going for us”.

I happen to disagree with Henderson, the problem is the heart and preparation of this team. Clearly there isn’t the same level of talent as there is on other Big Ten Football programs but the way these kids have performed this year has left little excuses. Jerry Kill might be lucky to have his health to hide behind during this pathetic stretch of games because it is shielding him from certain levels of criticism. Simple things like pass protection, run blocking, tackling and never giving up are things you teach a pee wee club, not things you should have to work on as a team in one of the best Conference’s in College Football.

I believe that HC Kill needs to start making some drastic changes in this program and turn towards the future. MarQueis Gray may be a better QB than Shortell at this time but he only has one year of eligibility left after this season. Shortell could be a starter for the next 3 years and Gray could still start WR across Da’Jon McKnight. We may see a few more scenarios similar to the events that took place in the game against Michigan but I believe it’s the right thing to do in the long run.

Realistically the Gophers may not win another game in the 2011 season but they could get some young talent key snaps in Big Ten games. I know that this team isn’t one that Kill recruited but he needs to do what he can with the players he has. That may mean the Gophers get blown out week after week but it will allow Kill and his staff to truly evaluate the depth of the Gophers team and focus on the big holes that need to be fixed.

“You don’t know where you’re at, until you play games like this” – Jerry Kill

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