No. 18 Michigan tops No. 21 Minnesota 49-24 in Milton debut

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MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — Joe Milton accounted for two touchdowns and 277 total yards in an unflappable debut at quarterback for No. 18 Michigan, and the Wolverines trampled No. 21 Minnesota with 258 rushing yards in a 49-24 victory Saturday night to open the virus-delayed season.

“I felt great. I was comfortable. I didn’t panic,” said Milton, who went 15 for 22 for 225 yards and rushed eight times for 52 yards after playing sparingly as a backup his first two years.

Zach Charbonnet burst through the middle untouched for a 70-yard score in the first quarter, the first of five rushing touchdowns that set the tone for Michigan’s dominance on offense. Donovan Jeter followed by scoring on a 15-yard scoop of an airborne fumble forced by a blitzing Michael Barrett, one of five sacks by the Wolverines.

Defensive coordinator Don Brown dialed up pressure from every direction, and Michigan’s front seven was as fierce as advertised.

“I just have to be better, period. It’s my fault. It’s not anybody else’s,” said Minnesota’s Tanner Morgan, who went 18 for 31 for 197 yards, one touchdown and one interception.

Barrett added a 66-yard kickoff return to set up Milton’s scoring pass to Ben Mason that capped a 21-point first quarter to spur the Wolverines to their 13th win in the last 15 conference openers. They have not lost at Minnesota in the battle for the Little Brown Jug trophy since 1977.

“Our team is a ticking time bomb. You never know whenever a big play can happen, either offensively or defensively,” Barrett said. “We just have a lot of guys that have that ‘it’ factor.”

With the Wolverines leading 28-17 late in the second quarter, Gophers coach P.J. Fleck ordered a fake punt on fourth-and-4 at their own 31, an obvious sign of how overwhelmed their defense was throughout the game. Tight end Ko Kieft, who gave the Gophers a 7-0 lead with his touchdown catch, took the snap as the upback but was stuffed for a 2-yard loss.

“We had a really good look for it,” Fleck said.

Hassan Haskins rushed six times for 82 yards and two touchdowns for the Wolverines, whose only obvious mistakes were on special teams — allowing a blocked punt in the first quarter and three missed field goals by Jake Moody.

Mohamed Ibrahim rushed for 140 yards and two touchdowns for the Gophers.

With the Big Ten starting seven weeks late under strict health protocols during the pandemic, there was no crowd for the Wolverines to fend with — only family members of players and staff distanced throughout the lower bowl.

“At first it was weird with there not being fans, but once we got out there flying around, hitting around and the game started and we were actually going, it felt the same as it always had,” Michigan linebacker Joe Ross said.

LINEUP SHUFFLES

The Gophers played without two incumbent starting offensive linemen, right tackle Daniel Faalele and right guard Curtis Dunlap. Dunlap had a cast on his left foot. Another expected starter, freshman punter Mark Crawford, did not suit up.

The Wolverines played without tight end Nick Eubanks and had only one backup available for Milton, Cade McNamara, who took the last drive.

LANDMARK LINEUP

The Big Ten assigned the first all-Black officiating crew in the history of the major five conferences, with referee Larry Smith leading the group of eight on-field officials and four others with off-the-field responsibilities. The Big Ten, which launched a series of league-wide social justice initiatives this week, said 22% of its 2020 officiating staff is either minorities or women.

POLL IMPLICATIONS

The Wolverines ought to move up several spots after this opening performance when the next Associated Press rankings are revealed on Sunday. Though the FBS conferences are on such different schedules and voting patterns are unpredictable, the Gophers will have a tough time staying in the Top 25 next week.

Michigan marked the fifth AP-ranked foe of Minnesota’s last six opponents. The Gophers beat Penn State and Auburn and lost to Iowa and Wisconsin over their final five-game stretch of last season.

THE TAKEAWAY

Michigan: Though the returning stable of running backs was strong with Charbonnet and Haskins, Milton took over behind a largely unproven offensive line with a young group of receivers and played with a poise well beyond his experience. The offense under coach Jim Harbaugh has not materialized the way the Wolverines have expected, but this was a promising start.

Minnesota: With seven regulars — including four NFL draft picks — departed from the defense that ranked third in the Big Ten and 10th in the FBS last season with an average of 306.6 yards allowed per game, this new group for the Gophers has a long way to go. Linebacker Braelen Oliver, an expected starter, suffered an unspecified injury in spring practice and did not play.

UP NEXT

Michigan: Hosts Michigan State next Saturday.

Minnesota: At Maryland on Friday night.

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More AP college football coverage: https://apnews.com/Collegefootball and https://twitter.com/AP_Top25

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