MINNEAPOLIS (AP) -- The question arises just about every year for Minnesota, but it can't be avoided until the Golden Gophers take back the Little Brown Jug.
So, when was the last time Minnesota beat Michigan?
"I think it was like 1967 or 1969 or something," Gophers defensive end Paul Nixon said.
Well, not quite that long. It was 1986 when Minnesota last beat the Wolverines and kept the Jug over the offseason, but that's still been awhile.
"We really feel this is the year for us," said Nixon, whose five sacks are second on his team.
If so, the Gophers will have to play much better than they did last week in a 34-3 loss to Ohio State.
Minnesota (7-2, 3-2), which dropped from the national rankings after the loss, still leads the Big Ten in rushing behind backs Terry Jackson II and Thomas Tapeh, but managed only 53 yards on 36 attempts against the Buckeyes after entering the game with an average of 271 yards per game.
And the 13th-ranked Wolverines (7-2, 4-1) happen to be equally tough against the run.
"Wipe out last week," quarterback Asad Abdul-Khaliq said. "We want to go out and show people we can play with the big guys."
The Gophers get three more chances to do that this season. After Michigan, they will face Iowa and play at Wisconsin. Though they're already eligible for a bowl, it's not an easy way to finish up.
"We still have the opportunity to be a good team in the Big Ten," Nixon said. "No matter what we do, we're always underdogs. But we feel we have a chance."
Michigan has an equally difficult end to the season, with Wisconsin and Ohio State waiting after Minnesota.
The Rose Bowl -- and a Bowl Championship Series berth -- is probably out of reach for the Gophers, but there's still something to play for.
"The only thing that we know is if we finish strong, it's going to be a great season even if we don't go to the Rose Bowl," said Minnesota tight end Bennie Joppru, who played for Minnetonka High School about 15 minutes from the Metrodome.
"If we slip up," Joppru said, "it's going to be an average season."
Though the Buckeyes shut them down, Michigan is still concerned with the Gophers' running game.
"They present a lot of problems," said Michigan coach Lloyd Carr. "They aren't a team that wants to drop back and throw the football a lot."
Well, that's not entirely true. Minnesota clearly misses the school's career receiving leader, Ron Johnson, now with the Baltimore Ravens.
And talented tight end Ben Utecht, who had five touchdown receptions in the first three games, has been hobbled by a stress fracture in his foot. Backup tight end Scooter Baugus is playing with a torn ligament in his knee.
"I can't remember the last time Utecht practiced," Gophers coach Glen Mason said. "All of a sudden a real good player becomes just another guy.
"Scooter's put together with Scotch tape. I thought we were going to be pretty solid there. All of a sudden, your top two guys are on the shelf."
In a 49-3 win over troubled rival Michigan State last weekend, B.J. Askew rushed for a career-high 149 yards after switching from fullback to tailback. Wide receiver Ronald Bellamy also had a breakout game, catching five balls for 124 yards and two touchdowns.
The game also gave quarterback John Navarre some confidence after he struggled in a home loss to Iowa the week before.
"When you are successful under those circumstances," Carr said, "there is nothing as satisfying as that."
It'll be a test for the Gophers' young defense, which led the Big Ten before playing the Buckeyes and slipping to the middle of the pack.
"I continue to think our defense has played a lot better than someone who just looks at the final score would've thought," Mason said. "We caught Ohio State at their best, or our worst or a combination of both. Because we were dominated."
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