GAME NOTES: Two teams at opposite ends of the Big Ten spectrum gather in East Lansing this weekend, as the 16th-ranked Michigan State Spartans tussle with the reeling Minnesota Golden Gophers at Spartan Stadium.
The Spartans were one of just a handful of unbeaten teams heading into last weekend and when all was said and done, they were knocked from their pedestal with a humbling 37-6 loss at No.18 Iowa.
"Obviously a disappointing performance by us today," stated head coach Mark Dantonio. "We are still an 8-1 football team and that is something that we need to recognize. We have to make plays."
The loss dashed MSU's national title hopes and also put a dent in its chances of winning the Big Ten. The Spartans are currently one of four teams in the Big Ten with just one loss, but they do have a rather favorable remaining schedule, so the program is still very much alive for a league championship.
Minnesota meanwhile, is one of only two teams without a Big Ten win and that is the least of the team's problems. Since opening the season with a 24-17 win over Middle Tennessee, the Gophers have gone on to drop eight straight decisions, including a 52-10 beating at the hands of No.10 Ohio State this past weekend.
"Obviously Ohio State was the dominating football team tonight. They beat us in all three phases of the football game," stated interim head coach Jeff Horton, who took after Tim Brewster was fired a few weeks ago.
As for the all-time series, MSU holds a 25-17 edge over Minnesota, but the Gophers have won six of the past eight meetings, including a 42-34 decision last season.
The Gophers turned in their worst offensive performance of the season, as they managed only 10 points and a mere 232 total yards in a lopsided loss to OSU last weekend. QB Adam Weber was harassed all game long and sacked five times. He lost two fumbles and threw a pick, while completing only 9-of-20 attempts for 162 yards. It was clearly a dismal effort by Weber, who has been one of the few bright spots for Minnesota with 17 TD passes on the year.
Da'Jon McKnight (578 yards, nine TDs) and MarQueis Gray (36 catches, 513 yards) are Weber's favorite targets, while DeLeon Eskridge (523 yards) heads the ground game. Eskridge had 79 yards and a TD in last weekend's loss, but McKnight and Gray combined for only four catches.
Minnesota's defense was shredded last weekend, as OSU ran for 263 yards and three TDs and threw for 244 more and another two scores. Furthermore, OSU completed a near perfect 20-of-24 pass attempts, while averaging 7.6 yards per play.
"We just had trouble slowing them down. We broke down defensively," stated coach Horton.
Defense has been an issue all season long for the Gophers, who are giving up 417.6 total ypg, including a whopping 201.8 ypg on the ground. Minnesota has surrendered 22 rushing TDs, while allowing foes to convert over 48 percent of the time on third downs. Gary Tinsley is the team's leading tackler with 69 to his credit and he had five stops in the loss to OSU.
The Spartans, averaging over 30 ppg, were held to just six points and a measly 258 total yards in last weekend's lopsided loss to Iowa. The biggest disappointment had to be the team's supposed electric ground game, which was held to a mere 31 yards on 20 carries.
"To me, we need to run the ball effectively and we can't turn the ball over three times and not get anything done on defense," said Dantonio.
QB Kirk Cousin also had his issues against the Iowa defense, as he was picked three times after throwing just four INTs in the first eight games. He did complete 21-of-29 pass attempts for 198 yards with a TD, and Cousins has been efficient this season, converting 67.2 percent of his tosses.
Mark Dell, who had eight receptions for 98 yards last weekend, is the go-to target for MSU with 39 catches for 618 yards on the year.
MSU's defense has thrived on making big plays this season, as they have recorded 20 takeaways, including 13 INTs, and 18 sacks. The unit however, didn't do anything special versus Iowa, finishing without a single sack or turnover.
"You can't win if you can't sack the quarterback. You can't win if you can't stop the run," said Dantonio.
The Spartans gave up 162 yards on the ground to Iowa, which also passed for 190 yards and three TDs on 11-of-16 attempts. It was a disappointment from a defense that has limited foes to just 123.8 rushing ypg for the season. Greg Jones highlights the unit with 78 stops, to go with a pair of INTs, and he made nine stops last weekend.
MSU is coming off a poor performance, but should have no trouble bouncing back with a strong effort from its ground attack. Not to mention Minnesota has all but given up on its season.
Sports Network Predicted Outcome: Michigan State 35, Minnesota 13