Minnesota Gophers vs. Michigan State: Game Preview

WEST LAFAYETTE, IN - OCTOBER 07: Brandon Lingen /

The Minnesota Gophers bring their 0-2 Big Ten record back to TCF Bank Stadium Saturday night for meeting with the Michigan State Spartans.

It truly is a tale of two teams in this game. The Minnesota Gophers comes in limping, to put it lightly, with injuries and poor play on the field. On the other hand, the Spartans come in with plenty of momentum after knocking off rival and nationally ranked Michigan at The Big House. Needless to say, the odds are not in the Gophers favor in this game. Minnesota is only a four point underdog at this juncture, but that does not tell an adequate story.

Michigan State comes in bolstering a 4-1 record, with a 2-0 conference mark. Both of those conference wins did not come easy, against the aforementioned Michigan Wolverines and the Iowa Hawkeyes. Their uptick in play the past two weeks has catapulted them into the number 21 spot in the national rankings. The Spartans only loss came at the hands of Notre Dame in their final non-conference bout.

Sparty is led by their phenomenal sophomore quarterback Brian Lewerke, who leads the team in both passing and rushing. Minnesota has not seen a dual threat quarterback of this magnitude yet this season. He will certainly pose a daunting task for a Gopher defense that has been sub-par so far in Big Ten play. Other offensive weapons for the Spartans include junior running back L.J. Scott and wideout Felton Davis III.

Mark Dantonio’s team does not necessarily “wow” you with their offensive ability. They only average 22.4 points per game which is 106th in the nation. They do rack up a significant amount of yardage however, with 394 yards per game. What does that mean on the outset? Well, it either means they put together drives that stall out or they turn the ball over. In the Spartans case it’s surprisingly neither, based on the stats. They are in the middle of the pack nationally in terms of turnovers lost and third down percentage. The Spartan offense is just an absolute anomaly to this observer.

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Luckily, they do not need to rely on the offense to win them games, as their defense has paced their success. Currently, they are fourth in the nation in total defense, allowing only 16.4 points per game. On top of that number they only surrender 161 yards through the air along with 97 yards on the ground per game. As a Gopher fan will note, that does not bode well for a dismal Gopher offense.

A stout Spartan defense will feast on a banged up Gopher offensive line. Right tackle Nick Connelly will miss this week’s game due to an unspecified injury. This is unwelcome news for Conor Rhoda, obviously. To make matters worse for Rhoda, wide receiver Phillip Howard will miss that game after being the victim of a missed targeting penalty last week.

Truthfully, I feel the four point spread between the two teams is far too low. Minnesota has close to no depth at seemingly every position. As many have said since the Purdue loss, this Gopher team does not have the players to consistently compete. Especially in such a loaded conference like the Big Ten.

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P.J. Fleck is still importing his culture and system and that takes time. It is hard to be patient when Fleck is so exuberant and illuminating when discussing football, I get that. However, for the rest of 2017, Gopher fans need to taper expectations. Coach Fleck is instilling the same ideals that he did at Western Michigan, and that took time. Just gander at the improvement record wise in Fleck’s Western Michigan tenure. That is what should excite you.

Anyway, the exciting thing is that this will be a night game at TCF Bank Stadium. This will surely play into the uniform selection for the Gophers. Without having any prior information to back this up, I think the Gophers might go with the anthracite uniforms. We know P.J. Fleck to be diverse with the uniforms, and I would like to see the near black threads during a night game.

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Per my records, the Gophers have not beaten Michigan State since 2009. It will be a tall task snapping that streak this Saturday with the team Minnesota is trotting out. That being said, nothing is impossible and the Gophers have shown some glimpses. However, against a tough Spartan defense, I foresee this despondent Minnesota offense struggling mightily. Gopher fans may be in for another long evening on Saturday. The game can be seen on Big Ten Network at 7 PM Central Time.

Prediction: Gophers 13, Spartans 24