MINNEAPOLIS - For Michigan, this is how football Saturdays against Minnesota are supposed to go in this recently lopsided series - stout defense and big plays on offense resulting in victory and the rights to the Little Brown Jug.
The Wolverines' 28-14 victory against the Golden Gophers was their 34th in the past 37 games of the series. They were in control throughout and did not allow Minnesota to stay close, break an improbable run, and kick a winning field goal as time expired. That formula worked in 1986, and again last season for Minnesota, but not yesterday.
Undefeated Michigan, ranked No. 6 heading into the game, did most everything right and took another step toward national title contention. Quarterback Chad Henne threw for 284 yards and three touchdowns, Mike Hart rushed for 195 yards, and Adrian Arrington caught two scores.
Hart said retrieving the Little Brown Jug, the 103-year-old trophy, was an expectation.
"It hurt to lose it last year because Michigan doesn't lose the jug," Hart said
By maintaining a two-touchdown lead for most of the game, Michigan (5-0, 2-0 Big Ten) did not offer Minnesota fans among the 50,805 in attendance much to cheer about. A fourth-quarter touchdown pass from Bryan Cupito to Logan Payne, followed by a successful onside kick, cut the score to 28-14 and gave the Golden Gophers (2-3, 0-2) an outside chance at making things interesting. But the Wolverines' defense held up.
Nevertheless, coach Llyod Carr, who watched his team blow leads in four of its five losses, said he never felt comfortable.
"Minnesota kept battling and made it a four-quarter game," he said. "It never felt like a safe lead."
Team officials interested in a safe ride home for the Little Brown Jug should hand it to Arrington. His sure hands hauled in three catches for 59 yards and two touchdowns.
The junior enjoyed a breakout performance, scoring his first collegiate touchdown on a 16-yard pass in the first quarter. He added another in the second quarter.
"He's a motivated guy who's had enough success to start believing in what he can do," Carr said. "He should keep getting better and better."
Fellow wide receiver Mario Manningham, winner of two straight Big Ten Conference player of the week awards, caught five passes for 131 yards including a 41-yard touchdown pass, his seventh in five games.
Minnesota's two touchdowns also came through the air, both on connections from quarterback Brian Cupito. Down 21-7 at halftime, the Golden Gophers appeared to score on a 38-yard touchdown pass early in the third quarter, but the play was negated by a holding penalty.
Michigan's defense needed no additional assistance. Entering the game ranked fifth nationally in total defense, the Wolverines were rock solid. As in their previous four games this season, the unit did not allow a 100-yard rusher or a rushing touchdown. Minnesota's Amir Pinnix managed 91 yards.
"They have been the best rushing team in the country," linebacker David Harris said. "We really limited them in the second half and made them throw more."
Conversely, Hart gave Michigan an instantly productive running game. The junior tailback entered the game leading the Big Ten in rushing at 119.2 yards per game. He seemed on his way to that mark in the first half alone by rushing 11 times for 67 yards.
Michigan controlled the game in the first half en route to a 21-7 halftime lead. Anytime the Golden Gophers' defense appeared to have the Wolverines hemmed in, Hart got loose to convert a first down. And when Michigan crossed the 50-yard line, Henne and his receivers were a threat to score.
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