The No. 15 Michigan Wolverines did not play their best football, but they played well enough to snag a 29-26 victory over the Minnesota Golden Gophers with a goal line stop to end the game and take the Little Brown Jug on Saturday night.
Minnesota found the board early with a 23-yard field goal from Ryan Santoso, but Michigan scored on a one-yard carry from Joe Kerridge with 0:36 left in the first quarter.
The offense for the Wolverines (6-2, 3-1 B1G) started the second quarter where they left off in the first quarter. Starting quarterback Jake Rudock dropped back and found Jehu Chesson for his first touchdown of the season to give the Wolverines a 14-3 lead.
The rest of the first half was all Golden Gophers (4-4, 1-3 B1G). Santoso drilled a 30-yard field goal with 7:36 left in the first. After Mitch Leidner found Rashad Still down the field for a 52-yard score, Santoso finished the half with a 32-yard field goal to give Minnesota a 16-14 lead.
Head coach Jim Harbaugh's halftime talk must have worked as the Wolverines came out firing. Jabrill Peppers scored his first offensive touchdown on a six-yard carry to give Michigan a 21-16 lead with 11:22 to play in the third.
With 5:49 to go in the third quarter, Leidner took off for an impressive 24-yard run into the end zone to pull the Golden Gophers back on top of the Wolverines. Minnesota was in their first game with interim head coach Tracey Claeys because Jerry Kill retired from the head coaching duties due to heath reasons.
Leidner led the offense, completing 16-of-33 passes for a career-high 317 yards and a score through the air and on the ground. Rodney Smith led both squads with 74 yards on 12 carries for Minnesota. When the ball was not handed to Smith, Leidner found Brandon Lingen through the air. The sophomore caught five receptions for 111 yards, which more than doubled his reception yards on the season.
Rudock went down with 4:40 left third quarter after a hard hit and was taken out of the game after the medical staff examined the fifth-year senior. It looked as if Rudock's neck bent awkwardly on the hit. The quarterback went to the locker room following the injury.
The former Iowa Hawkeyes quarterback could not find the field after getting knocked down. Rudock finished with 140 yards through the air and one touchdown. His only interception was picked off by Briean Boddy-Calhoun, but that was his only real blemish on Saturday night.
Because of the injury, sophomore quarterback Wilton Speight took snaps in hopes of brining the Wolverines back in the game.
Even tough the run game for Michigan did not find the end zone, the feet of Drake Johnson, De'Veon Smith and Peppers helped the offense. Johnson carried the ball 10 times for 55 yards.
Minnesota cashed in on a beautiful 47-yard field goal to extend the Golden Gopher lead to five with 11:43 left in regulation.
After the field goal, Rudock returned the the sideline, but Speight was still under center for the Maize and Blue.
Speight found Jake Butt for his first career completion and then gave the Wolverines a touchdown. The sophomore connected with Chesson for first career touchdown pass. It was a 12-yard score to give Michigan a 29-26 lead with 4:57 left in the game after Amara Darboh caught the two-point conversion from Speight.
The sophomore, Speight, finished 3-for-6 through the air with 29 yards and a huge touchdown.
"It's where it's supposed to be, first and foremost," Speight said about the Little Brown Jug returning to Ann Arbor, Michigan. "To be able to come back in the locker room and celebrate it means a lot."
Whether it was Rudock or Speight, the receivers for Michigan got open all night. Darboh caught six passes for 73 yards to lead Michigan. Meanwhile, Butt chipped in 38 and Chesson caught three passes for 33 yards and two touchdowns.
With 1:27 left in the game, Leidner completed a pass on fourth-and-five. It looked the like ball hit the ground, but the call stood and Minnesota continued their late offensive drive.
Minnesota looked like the won with nine seconds left on a 23-yard connection from Leidner to Drew Wolitarsky for a touchdown, but the call was reversed and the receiver was ruled down at the one-yard line.
On second-and-goal from the one-yard line with two seconds left, the Minnesota offense came up short as Leidner could not gain any yardage on the quarterback keeper because Ryan Glasgow and Joe Bolden were in his path.
"I just think in those situations you've got to be able to get half a yard," Claeys said. "If it's outside the 1-yard line, hey, we'll kick it and move on. But in that situation I felt like we could get it. I'd do it all over again and do the same thing."
The Wolverines stole the 29-26 win over the Golden Gophers with the late defensive push. Michigan regained the Little Brown Jug after losing it at home last season.
"To be able to win a tough one, it's a great learning experience because it reinforces everything you tell them about never giving up, fighting to the end," Harbaugh said. "That's the thing I'm most excited about. Our team has learned a very important lesson."