The Minnesota Gophers are still winless in Big Ten play after being bested by the Michigan State Spartans, losing 30-27 on Saturday evening.
Due to some heavy rain and lightning in the area, the game was delayed roughly 34 minutes. The wet conditions paved the way to some unforced errors early in the game. Michigan State botched a punt snap on their first series. This put the Minnesota Gophers in prime position to strike first, getting the ball on the five-yard line. As was mentioned in the preview, the Spartan defense stood tall, limiting the Gophers to only a field goal.
Michigan State was able to answer back despite some dropped passes from Spartan receivers. A 42-yard field goal knotted the game up at three a piece. On the ensuing Gopher drive, Shannon Brooks succumbed to the wet conditions, fumbling deep in Minnesota territory. The Spartans wasted no time, getting into the end zone in two plays. Madre London punched it in to put Michigan State up 10-3.
TCF Bank Stadium came alive as Duke McGhee jumped a Brian Lewerke pass, setting the Minnesota offense up in Spartan territory. Again, the Gophers could not get into the end zone, only managing a 47-yard Emmit Carpenter field goal. As the first quarter came to a close, Michigan State led 10-6.
With the Spartans driving, L.J. Scott busted open the Gopher defense with a 24-yard touchdown run. Early on in the second quarter Michigan State extended their lead to 11 points. At this point, the Minnesota defense looked completely outmatched, especially on the ground.
Demry Croft took over under center for the Gophers roughly half way through the second quarter. Croft had two good throws on his first drive before throwing an absolutely horrendous pass. Ultimately, that ball ended up about five yards short of its intended target and in the hands of the Spartans. Luckily, Minnesota did not pay for the untimely turnover, halting the Michigan State offense. The first half concluded with the Spartans still leading 17-6.
The Gophers only managed 108 first half yards to Michigan State’s 155. Despite being outplayed in the half, Minnesota was still fairly even statistically with the Spartans. However, heading into the second half the Gophers would have to shape up on both ends to have a chance.
On Michigan State’s first drive of the second half, they continued to dominate on the ground. A big burst by L.J. Scott led to a Spartan field goal, pushing their lead to 14. With Croft still shaking off rust, the Gopher offense stalled out, running only four plays in the frame. Consequently, Michigan State tacked on another field goal, making the score 23-6. That was the score heading into the final 15 minutes.
Minnesota caught a much needed break when Thomas Barber recovered a Spartan fumble. Demry Croft fired a great throw to Tyler Johnson for a 28-yard touchdown pass. At long last, the Gopher offense woke up, inching closer to Michigan State 23-13.
Almost on cue, the Spartans walked down the field on their next drive. L.J. Scott scored his second touchdown of the game and pushed the lead back up to 17. In a wild turn of events, Demry Croft found Tyler Johnson again for 17-yard touchdown. It seemed as though the Gopher offense had finally found some consistency.
With all the momentum, the Gopher offense got the ball back with three minutes remaining, trailing by ten. After converting a nifty fourth down play, Minnesota worked the ball into Spartan territory. Croft again found Tyler Johnson in the end zone, their third touchdown connection. The score was now 30-27.
Ultimately, the ensuing onside kick was unsuccessful for Minnesota, the final score being 30-27. Regardless the Gophers have nothing to be ashamed of, they could have given in, but they did not. That, to me is a testament of the culture being instilled in Dinkytown.
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In the end, the Gophers just did not have a defensive answer for the Michigan State running game. In total, the Spatans rushed for 245 yards, 194 of them coming from L.J. Scott alone. It was similar to what we saw against Maryland, where the Minnesota defense could not contain the ball carrier outside of the tackles. Michigan State was then able to rip off huge chunks of yardage without a Minnesota defender in sight.
The Spartans also commanded the time of possession, which is normally a stat the Gophers win. Without this advantage, the Gopher defense was on the field longer, and they were unable to string stops together.
Regardless of the outcome, Minnesota has to move forward with Demry Croft at quarterback. He had the one awful throw, but other than that he was rather efficient. Croft finished the game with 163 passing yards, 31 rushing yards, three touchdowns, and an interception. He has a great arm and he can use his legs, which is an element the Gophers have been without. To me, it’s a no-brainer, Demry Croft needs to be the quarterback of this team.
Mill about smartly until next week Gopher fans, and do not dwell on this loss too much. Minnesota may have something to look forward to next week though. They will face 2-4 Illinois in their homecoming game. The Illini are coming off a tough loss against perennial Big Ten doormat Rutgers, so that is at least somewhat promising. That game will be at 2:30 Central Time and can be seen on the Big Ten Network.