ANN ARBOR, MICH. – First, the rain came. Then, the lightning. And of course, there was thunder, but it didn’t all come from the sky.
The loudest came from Michigan’s running game.
After a lightning delay of 48 minutes on a stormy Saturday night at Michigan Stadium, the Wolverines used their running game to overwhelm the Gophers 33-10 and retain the Little Brown Jug. Michigan rushed for 371 yards, led by Karan Higdon’s 200 yards and two touchdowns and Chris Evans’ 191 yards and two scores.
In the first half, Higdon rushed nine times for 163 yards, including a 77-yard TD run, and Evans added six carries for 111 yards, including a 60-yard TD run. Michigan had 266 yards on the ground in the first half, gaining 15.6 yards per carry.
“Besides everywhere, it was everywhere,’’ Gophers coach P.J. Fleck said of his team’s issues. “And when it wasn’t everywhere, it was everywhere over here.’’
The Gophers (4-5, 1-5 Big Ten) stayed close very early, with running back Rodney Smith scoring on a 10-yard run in the first quarter to make it 7-7.
Minnesota’s defense, however, could not contain Michigan’s running game, which paved the way for redshirt freshman quarterback Brandon Peters to easily settle in during his first career start. And Minnesota’s offense, which had 112 yards through the first quarter, finished with 164, with 62 coming on a late fourth-quarter drive for a field goal. Through three quarters, the Gophers had 7 fewer yards than they had through one.
Michigan (7-2, 4-2) wasted no time scoring on its first possession, going up 7-0 with 7:43 left in the first quarter on Peters’ 20-yard touchdown pass on a throwback to tight end Sean McKeon. The big play on the seven-play, 83-yard drive was Higdon’s 47-yard run down the sideline to the Minnesota 28.
The Gophers went on a 10-play, 75-yard march on their second possession, with Smith scoring on a 10-yard run. Key on the drive were Demry Croft hitting Phillip Howard for a 16-yard gain and the QB converting a third-and-6 situation with an 8-yard scramble to the Michigan 43.
Michigan swiftly made it 13-7 with 58 seconds left in the first quarter, with Higdon going untouched 77 yards for a touchdown run on second down. Quinn Nordin missed the extra-point attempt. That left Michigan with 165 yards on two series, including 133 on the ground.
“We had a lot of missed tackles,’’ Fleck said, “and when you have missed tackles against this team, it’s out the gate.’’
With Michigan’s offensive line asserting itself, Higdon had a 12-yard gain to the 22. Evans followed with an 18-yard gain on a sweep, then got free for a 60-yard touchdown run for a 20-7 lead with seven minutes left in the half. At that point, the Wolverines had 234 rushing yards on 12 carries.
“It’s on us,’’ linebacker Blake Cashman said. “We didn’t execute well.’’
Michigan was marching again, moving to the Minnesota 24. But a personal foul penalty pushed the Wolverines back, and Nordin missed a 49-yard field-goal attempt with 11 seconds left in the half.
The Gophers tightened on defense to start the third quarter, with Cashman sacking Peters to force a punt. Croft was called for intentional grounding to avoid a sack by defensive end Chase Winovich. On third-and-29, Croft was sacked by Mike McCray and defensive tackle Maurice Hurst.
Merrick Jackson’s powerful third-down sack of Peters forced another punt, and the Gophers took over at their 45. But Croft was strip-sacked by Khaleke Hudson and Winovich recovered at the Minnesota 46.
“That hurt us,’’ Fleck said.
Michigan cashed that in with Higdon’s 5-yard run, for a 27-7 lead with 3:27 left in the third quarter.
The Wolverines still had another big play in them, and it was from Evans, who went 67 yards for a TD with 1:35 left in the third quarter for a 33-7 lead. Michigan’s two-point conversion run by Evans failed.
On the final play of the third quarter, players had to be separated, with Gophers left tackle Donnell Greene and Michigan defensive back Josh Metellus being ejected for unsportsmanlike conduct. Green punched a Michigan player in the head during the scrum. “That’s not our culture. That’s not acceptable, 100 percent,’’ Fleck said.
Late in the fourth quarter, Croft found Tyler Johnson for a 29-yard gain to the Michigan 21 — Johnson’s first catch of the night. The Gophers settled for a 23-yard field goal by Emmit Carpenter with 1:51 left.