Jug’s yearlong stay in Minneapolis might be coming to an end

by Tyler Rushmeyer

For the first time in 20 years, Michigan’s flight to Minneapolis will be without a key piece of cargo – the Little Brown Jug.

The Minnesota football team will host the 89th battle for the Jug on Saturday against the Wolverines, who have never lost in the confines of the Metrodome.

The rivalry prize has gotten comfortable in Ann Arbor, having resided there for 38 of the past 40 years. But now, sitting in Minneapolis, the Gophers will look to keep the 103-year-old trophy in its near-foreign territory this weekend.

Coach Glen Mason, who holds a 1-6 record against the Wolverines, isn’t quite ready to return the prize.

“It’s important to keep the darn thing,” he said. “It was a special moment for us a year ago. When I watch that film, it’s hard to believe that a year has gone by that fast. It seems like yesterday.”

After somehow blowing a 34-14 fourth-quarter lead in 2003 to lose 38-34 and again coming up short in 2004, 27-24, the Gophers finally broke through last season with a 23-20 victory, spurred by a 61-yard run by former-Gophers running back Gary Russell.

Freshman kicker Jason Giannini’s 29-yard field goal completed the improbable upset, silencing the Big House and ending the drought.

Senior wide receiver Logan Payne has played the past three Michigan contests.

“We’ve had a good shot the last three years, a couple plays here and there and we could’ve had the Jug for three years now,” Payne said. “I’ve see it all from the lows to the highs, but it felt good to finally pull one out last season.”

But even with last year’s triumph, what once was a near-even rivalry for the Jug has become a lopsided series, with Michigan holding a 63-22 advantage over the Gophers in the all-time series.

And while Minnesota has gone 40 years without a Big Ten title, the Wolverines have racked up 21 of their own. Minnesota’s appearance in six lower-tier bowls in the past seven seasons is dwarfed by Michigan’s 31-straight bowl appearances.

Being the underdogs in the matchup is nothing new to the Gophers, and, as Minnesota has proved over the past three seasons, they can compete with the Wolverines no matter what the rankings say.

Senior quarterback Bryan Cupito, who will be starting his third game against Michigan, doesn’t have a problem with playing the underdog role.

“They have always had more talent than us, that’s not a question, but that’s OK because we found a way to beat them last year and finally came out on top,” Cupito said. “Now hopefully we can stay on top Ö I’m sure they will be fired up and ready to take the Jug back.”

The Michigan team the Gophers will face Saturday appears to be much improved from the 7-5 squad Minnesota faced last season. The Wolverines come to the Metrodome with a 4-0 record and No. 6 national ranking.

“They’re tough, as always – that’s Michigan,” senior cornerback Trumaine Banks said. “But we can’t think about whether we’re the underdogs or not. Our goal is just to keep that Jug.”

For the seniors who have seen it all against Michigan the past three years, this weekend’s game will be a special one,

“It’s going to be a great atmosphere Saturday,” Payne said. “It would be wonderful to hold that Jug up one more time for the home crowd.”