Michigan Wolverines’ History With Minnesota Gophers

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This Saturday afternoon at 3:30 p.m. EST (ABC/ESPN2), Michigan and Minnesota will square off on the gridiron for the 101st time in a series that dates all the way back to 1892. The Wolverines have largely dominated this series with a 73-24-3 record, and it hasn’t been exactly close for the last 25-plus years—Michigan has won 22 of 23 meetings. Such a historic rivalry has seen its shares of incredible moments; relive the highlights of the series right here.


The game that gave birth to the jug…

Everyone knows about the water jug that Michigan head coach Fielding H. Yost left behind at Minnesota’s Northrop Field, following a 6-6 tie in a game shortened by weather. From there, the rivalry was born. It was decided that the winner of the game would receive the “Little Brown Jug” and keep it until the other team captured a victory and earned it back, which is something Minnesota didn’t do until 1919.


Known as “The Battle of Giants,” the 1940 meeting between Michigan and Minnesota featured two undefeated teams, each standing tall at 5-0 with nationally recognized programs. It was the Gophers who walked away victorious on their home field, however, which propelled them to a perfect 8-0 record and a national championship. That loss to Minnesota would be Michigan’s only defeat in a season in which the Wolverines only allowed 34 points through their eight games.


Michigan travelled to Minnesota with a 6-0 record and a No. 1 ranking attached to its name. In the minds of the Wolverines, those boys playing for the Gophers didn’t deserve to be competing at the same level as them. Despite that preconceived notion, though, it was Minnesota that knocked off Michigan, 16-0, sending off the Wolverines with their first and only loss of the 1977 season.

Minnesota head coach Cal Stoll didn’t even know who he wanted starting at quarterback the morning of the game. Because the Gophers had such an up-and-down season to that point, Stoll called in his top three quarterbacks to his office to make his decision. “I kept looking in their eyes when I talked to them,” Stoll told Sports Illustrated’s William Johnson. “Mark Carlson was looking right back into my eyes. I made a gut decision right then that he would be my quarterback.” Carlson hadn’t played a single minute for Minnesota all season, yet he was the one who was chosen to lead the Gophers to battle against the first-ranked team in the country. And wouldn’t you know it—it worked.

I strongly encourage you click here to read Johnson’s entire story located in the SI vault.


It was almost the same story nine years later when No. 2 Michigan was heavily favored at home against the Gophers, but it simply wasn’t meant to be. Even as 25-point underdogs, Minnesota found itself knotted up with Michigan at 17-all with only two minutes remaining in the game. Gophers quarterback Rickey Foggie scrambled to pick up necessary yards and put the ball in field-goal range for kicker Chip Lohmiller, who put in the game-winning field goal and sent his team back home with the Little Brown Jug for the first time since the upset in ’77.


The 2003 Michigan-Minnesota matchup was one of the most anticipated games between the two programs in years. It was the 100th anniversary of the 1903 game that began the Little Brown Jug rivalry tradition, and both teams were ranked in the top 20.

Down 28-7 to begin the fourth quarter, Michigan quarterback John Navaare orchestrated the largest comeback in school history by marching his Wolverines back to a 38-35 victory. Kicker Garrett Rivas sealed the win with a 33-yard field goal with 47 seconds remaining in the game, giving Michigan its 15th consecutive win over the Gophers. After the game, coach Lloyd Carr said it best: “It just speaks to the human spirit, and those kids showed tremendous spirit.”

Relive that fourth quarter here.

Tyler Fenwick is the managing editor of TheBigHouseReport.com. Follow him on Twitter @Ty_Fenwick, and “Like” him on Facebook.

Tyler Fenwick
Managing Editor at The Big House Report
I am an aspiring journalist studying at IUPUI. I am the third (and youngest) manager of The Big House Report, and it's my responsibility to make sure it runs more smoothly today than it did yesterday.