Michigan lost starting quarterback Jake Rudock in the second half and watched Minnesota drive downfield with a golden opportunity to take the lead in the game's final seconds.
But somehow, the Wolverines walked out of the Twin Cities in possession of the Little Brown Jug.
Some questionable decision making in the game's final seconds allowed Michigan to hang on to a 29-26 lead and defeat Minnesota just days after Jerry Kill retired as the Gophers' head coach.
Backup quarterback Wilton Speight, who hadn't completed a pass prior to Saturday, relieved Rudock and with eight and a half minutes remaining, led a seven-play, 40-yard drive that ended in a touchdown toss to Jehu Chesson to give the Wolverines a 27-26 lead. Speight then completed a pass to Amara Darboh for a successful two-point conversion to make the lead three points.
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Minnesota had just under five minutes to go 75 yards, and it looked grim on multiple occasions. But Mitch Leidner completed a pass to Rodney Smith, who picked up a first down on a critical third and 17. Later on the drive, Leidner hit KJ Maye, who made a great catch to convert on fourth and five. Then Leidner threw a beautiful pass to Drew Wolitarsky, who hauled it in for what was initially ruled a touchdown with 19 seconds left. But that play was called back to the one-yard line.
And that's where things got crazy.
After the review, the Gophers took more than 10 seconds to set up their play on first and goal from the one, acting as if they didn't know the clock was running. An incomplete pass followed, and with two seconds left, rather than attempting a game-tying field goal, Minnesota went for the win. Leidner attempted a quarterback sneak up the middle and was stuffed, the Michigan defense securing a road victory.
It was a astonishing end to a great game. Michigan had an early 14-3 lead thanks to two early touchdowns, but Minnesota scored 13 unanswered points to take a 16-14 lead into halftime, one of those scores a 52-yard pass play from Leidner to Rashad Still. Jabrill Peppers scored his first offensive touchdown for Michigan, a go-ahead scoring rush in the third quarter. That was answered, though, by Leidner, who put the Gophers back in front with a 24-yard touchdown run. Ryan Santoso's fourth field goal of the night gave the Gophers a 26-21 lead before Speight's touchdown pass put the Wolverines in front.
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The game certainly carried plenty of emotional weight for Minnesota, and there were emotional tributes before and during the game to Kill, who on Wednesday tearfully announced his retirement due to ongoing health concerns.
It appeared that Kill's players were playing with some extra oomph, looking different than the group that through the season's first eight weeks was one of the nation's worst offensive teams. Up against Michigan's defense, which entered ranked No. 1 in the country in both scoring defense and total defense, Minnesota scored 26 points on a stunning 461 total yards.
Leidner finished with 317 passing yards, 37 rushing yards and two total touchdowns. Smith had 74 rush yards on 12 carries. Brandon Lingen caught five passes for 111 yards. Still had 69 receiving yards, and Maye had 58.
It was a good night for the Minnesota defense, too, which held Michigan to just 296 yards, including just 127 on the ground.
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Still, though, the Gophers were defeated, and the late-game decision making will likely earn the majority of the blame for the loss. Leidner's excellent play on that final drive had Minnesota right on the doorstep against the country's top defense. But the way those final two plays played out left observers stunned and scratching their heads.
Michigan improved to 6-2 overall and 3-1 in the conference with the win. The Wolverines have games remaining against Rutgers, Indiana and Penn State before the regular-season finale against Ohio State.
Minnesota dropped to 4-4 overall and 1-3 in Big Ten play with the loss. The Gophers have top-10 challenges against Ohio State and Iowa next before finishing the regular season with games against Illinois and Wisconsin.