The Minnesota Gophers travel to East Lansing to face the Michigan State Spartans on Saturday at 3:30 (EST). The Gophers are a -3-point favorite but ESPN’s FPI gives the Spartans a 60.8% chance to win. Minnesota comes into the game with a 3-0 record, dominating their three weak non-conference opponents 149-17. The Spartans on the other hand are coming into this weekend’s matchup off a tough road loss to the now #18 Washington Huskies 39-28. Before their loss to Washington, Michigan State beat both Western Michigan (35-13) and Akron (52-0) and was ranked 11th in the nation. The Spartans loss now has them unranked and not pleased with their recent performance.
This is a crucial game for both teams. For Minnesota, it’s a chance to prove to everyone they are a legit contender after a weak non-conference slate. For the Spartans, it could very well be the game that decides their season. A win keeps them in contention in the east, while suffering back-to-back losses would be devastating. The Spartans still have games against at #4 Michigan, vs. #3 Ohio State, and at #14 Penn State all on their schedule. Having two losses before entering that gauntlet would likely be the end of their season. With that let’s take a look at what to expect from each team in this Big 10 showdown.
Minnesota has been very dominant to start the season. Blowing out all three non-conference opponents by an average of 49.7 to 5.7. The Gopher’s defense has picked up where it left off last year holding opponents to 170.3 yards of total offense per game (100.7 passing and 69.7 rushing). On the offensive side of the ball the Gophers have averaged 554.7 yards of offense per game (242.0 passing and 312.7 rushing). Minnesota has averaged 7.3 yards per play to their opponents 3.6.
The running game has been the offense’s driving force led by senior running back Mohamed Ibrahim. Ibrahim, who so far this season has 464 yards on 67 carries and seven touchdowns, averaging 6.9 yards per carry. Tanner Morgan has thrown for 618 yards and four touchdowns.
Some things to note about Minnesota is that they are one of the least penalized teams in the nation averaging 3.33 per game (tied for second in the nation). The Gophers also lead the nation in time of possession, averaging 39 minutes a game and are ranked second in total offense (554.7) and defense (170.3). While these came against bad teams, this will be what I am watching on Saturday. Can the Gophers keep up this level of dominance or does it fade against better teams?
What To Watch
While you could list a lot to watch in this week’s game, I have to say it would be the passing game. Last week the Huskies lit up the Spartans, throwing for almost 400 yards and four touchdowns. Minnesota is without their top wide receiver in Chris Autman-Bell who is out for the year after undergoing leg surgery. Receivers like Dylan Wright, Michael Brown-Stephens, and tight end Brevyn Spann-Ford will need to step up in his absence. A game like this is just the test for the Gophers passing offense to see just what they can do.
The biggest question is the one I’ve been dying to know after week one; are they for real? This is Minnesota’s first real opponent. Nothing against New Mexico State, Western Illinois, or Colorado, but they aren’t anywhere near a Michigan State. Those three teams are a combined 0-10, but the Gophers have won in dominating fashion. The Spartans are a real team and a real test for Minnesota, especially in East Lansing. How will they do? I think they compete and if they lose or win it’s close, but without any real looks at them against a legit opponent it’s just a big question mark for right now.
Michigan State is coming off a tough road loss to the Huskies, losing 39-28. Thankfully for them, the now #18th ranked Washington is 3-0 and looking like a strong team. If this continues for them, it should be a good loss on their resume. Unfortunately for the Spartans, their next opponent won’t be easy in Minnesota. The Gophers are tough on defense allowing only 170.3 yards per game. They are especially tough against the run-in which Minnesota is holding their opponents to under 70 yards per game. The Spartans will need a good outing from their running game in order to not become one dimensional on offense. The Gophers also boast a veteran secondary, a matchup I’m looking forward to on Saturday.
On the defensive side the Spartans have their hands full in the two-headed monster that is Mohamed Ibrahim and Trey Potts. They have combined for almost 700 yards rushing and ten touchdowns. Michigan State will look to slow them down as they have held opponents to just 89.7 yards rushing per game. If they can do this, it will be massive in increasing their chances to beat the Gophers. If they can’t, it could be a slow painful death. On the other hand, Minnesota’s passing game took a hit in the loss of Autman-Bell. The Spartans will look to make it tough as receivers adjust to the new positions.
What To Watch
What I’m watching from the Spartans is quarterback Payton Thorne and the passing game. Minnesota has a great run defense and the Spartans struggled last week with only 42-yards on the ground. If this happens again it’ll be up to the passing game to keep the offense moving. The Spartans last week threw for 323 yards and three touchdowns, averaging 7.7 yards per pass. This will be the key to keep up with a ground and pound Minnesota team that dominates time of possession. As said early, the Gophers lead the nation in time of possession and the Spartans will have to capitalize on every opportunity because of this.
The biggest question I have is how the Spartans look after the loss. This was a tough one for Michigan State. Washington came out and punched them in the mouth. The Spartans secondary got torched by the Huskies. I have a feeling the Spartans aren’t going to overlook Minnesota, not after a loss like that. They’ll come out ready to go and not get caught off-guard. I expect Michigan State to come out swinging and take a big shot or two early to get ahead and establish the tempo of the game.
My bold prediction for the game is that Tanner Morgan and Payton Thorne will combine for 600 plus yards passing and six touchdowns. Last week the Spartan secondary allowed 397 yards and four touchdowns. Minnesota, even with the loss of Autman-Bell will make a statement showing that their passing game is still here. For the Spartans, the passing game is their strength and Gopher’s defense isn’t going to allow them to be run on. Michigan State is going to have to have a great game in the air to stay in this game.
The following betting lines are according to ESPN’s Pick Center.
- Minnesota: -3.0
- Michigan State: +3.0
- Minnesota: -148
- Michigan State: +128
Where To Watch
Minnesota at Michigan State will start at 3:30 (EST) on Saturday. The commentators for the game will be Brandon Gaudin (play-by-play), Joshua Perry (analyst), and Rick Pizzo (sidelines). The game will be aired on the Big 10 Network this Saturday. Streaming Services that have the Big 10 network are Big 10 Plus, Fox Sports, Directv Stream, fubo TV, Hulu (with live TV), Sling (with live TV), and Vidgo.
Michigan State will be geared up and ready to go, unfortunately for them so will the Gophers. Minnesota is out to prove they are legit. The passing game will be big for each team, but the Gophers will get a lead late and run the ball, eating up the clock. The Spartans will get the ball back late in the game but in the end the Gophers defense comes up with a stop. Minnesota wins 31-27.
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