So you want to play football during a pandemic? The Big Ten is the fourth Big Five Conference to try playing during a pandemic with limited fans and extreme cold. We are off and running!
After a competitive start to the first quarter, the Wolverines slowly but surely pulled away from P.J. Fleck’s Gophers before the smallest handful of fans this reporter has ever witnessed in my 41 years of covering the Gophers.
Last season in 2019 the Gophers were 11-2 champions of the Outback Bowl in Tampa, Florida. They played on New Year’s Day; it was the best season of football in this town since 1962, when I was in diapers and five Gophers were drafted into the NFL.
Despite the obstacles and a canceled season in August by the Big Ten, they decided let’s do this. When you win during a pandemic you hear no excuses. When you lose, you hear about how difficult it is to play, who’s hurt, who left, who’s positive and negative and how cold it is.
Michigan Head Coach Jim Harbaugh in his sixth season makes $7 million a year. He has never beaten Ohio State (0-5), and in Michigan and the college football world that’s all that matters. The Gophers, despite the great 2019 season, did not have to play Ohio State or Michigan. Those schools over the years seldom, if ever, lose to Minnesota when they do play.
The Little Brown Jug, which the two schools have played for since the last U.S. pandemic in 1918, again stays with Michigan. They have had it since 2014, when Jerry Kill’s Gophers upset the Wolverines in the Big House that Saturday before 114,000 fans.
Michigan was more physical and had better team speed this time. The Wolverines have carte blanche when they come to Minnesota. They have won 17 straight versus the Gophers in Dinkytown and the land of 10,000 lakes.
The Gophers did some good things—they blocked a punt that led to their first touchdown, and they forced Michigan to miss three field goals. However, Michigan had no problem moving the ball up and down the field led by talented quarterback 6’-5” Joe Milton.
The junior QB from Florida was terrific. He threw for 225 yards, completed 15-22 passes, ran for 52 yards and had two touchdowns. Tom Brady could not have played better. Michigan had their way with the Gophers: 478 yards total offense and great balance running and throwing.
On defense, Michigan delivered some pain. They sacked Gophers QB Tanner Morgan five times, twice by big Kwity Paye, who also had three tackles for a loss and a touchdown. Rashon Bateman had nine catches for 101 yards for the Gophers.
The Gophers paid a special tribute in the game to veteran Star Tribune/WCCO journalist Sid Hartman, who died at age 100 a week ago. Hartman truly loved the Gophers; he covered the program with passion virtually his entire life. The Gophers (0-1) now hit the Big Ten road with both Maryland and Illinois next.