The Jug returns

Minnesota defeated Michigan 30-14 to reclaim a rivalry trophy.

Jack Satzinger

ANN ARBOR, Mich. — When Jerry Kill answered questions Saturday night following the University of Minnesota’s 30-14 victory at the University of Michigan, it almost looked like Minnesota had lost.

The Gophers head coach appeared subdued as he softly spoke about his team’s second victory over the Wolverines since 1986, looking toward his wife, Rebecca, and his daughter Krystal standing in the back of the room.

Last year, Kill didn’t make the trip to Ann Arbor, Mich.

He rested at home with his family, recovering from an epileptic seizure as Minnesota lost 42-13.

“I didn’t participate last year; I let a lot of people down,” Kill said. “[The players] went through a lot here a year ago. Can’t tell you how proud I am of them.”

Last season’s postgame press conference at Michigan had reporters asking players whether Kill’s absence was a distraction. Local and national columnists called for Kill’s resignation after his team went into the largest college football stadium in the country without its coach.

As Kill sat in the media room Saturday, it became clear how much his absence last year ate away at him. And even though the look on his face was no indication, Minnesota had just pulled off a breakthrough victory in enemy territory.

“A lot of emotion coming from [Kill] and it’s real and you see it coming from him. He has so much passion, so much love for us, and he wants to see us do so good,” Gophers running back David Cobb said.

With Kill on the sidelines, the Gophers embodied one of their head coach’s main football philosophies: winning the turnover battle.

Midway through the third quarter, Gophers linebacker De’Vondre Campbell intercepted a Shane Morris pass and ran it in for a touchdown to give Minnesota a 20-7 lead — along with all of the momentum.

“Our coaching staff basically does a great job of emphasizing turnovers and we know that in order for us to be the team and defense that we want to be, we have to create turnovers and put our offense in better situations,” Campbell said.

With “Fire Brady,” chants — alluding to Michigan’s head coach, Brady Hoke — raining down from the student section, Morris fumbled the ball on the next possession, and redshirt junior defensive lineman Theiren Cockran recovered it.

From the get-go, the Gophers tried to pressure Morris, who was making his first start of the season for benched redshirt senior Devin Gardner.

“We knew that they were going to try and run on us, so we knew if we could stop them from running and make them throw the ball with the young quarterback, he was going to get flustered,” Campbell said.

While Minnesota’s defense was able to nab two takeaways, its offense played arguably its cleanest game of the year without any turnovers of its own.

Redshirt sophomore quarterback Mitch Leidner started Saturday after missing last week’s 24-7 win over San Jose State with a left knee sprain and turf toe.

Leidner scored Minnesota’s first points of the game early in the second quarter with a 10-yard quarterback keeper. He finished with 167 passing yards, completing 14 of 22 passes.

After Campbell’s pick-six, the Lakeville, Minn., native faked a hand-off to running back Rodrick Williams, rolled to the left and flicked a shovel pass one yard to tight end Maxx Williams for a touchdown.

Maxx Williams later made a highlight reel one-handed catch for 26 yards, punctuating Minnesota’s versatile offensive attack Saturday.

But the Gophers held true to their identity in the end, riding Cobb for 183 rushing yards on 32 carries.

“I think the biggest thing was not just getting me the ball, but just getting our run game and pass game mixed right, just having that balance. When we have that balance, we are more successful as an offense,” Cobb said. “Mitch did a great job today handling the game, not worrying about making a mistake.”

Leidner said he knew he would be ready for the game after he had good practices on Wednesday and Thursday.

It was Leidner’s second straight season starting at Michigan, but this time, his head coach was with him. And when the clock struck zero, the Gophers stormed across the field in front of an announced crowd of 102,926 to take back The Little Brown Jug for the first time since 2005.

“I remember when I was a senior in high school, watching us lose here 58-0,” Leidner said. “It’s just amazing how things have turned around.”