“Not if we win, but when we win.”
That’s what Michigan State head coach, Mark Dantonio, told the media earlier this week.
The Spartans did just that, and in convincing fashion. The defense allowed less than a hundred total yards in a 26-10 triumph over Minnesota.
The score included four rush yards on 19 carries. The longest rush was five yards on the afternoon. Not even the gold jerseys could do the trick.
The bigger storyline came in the second half when coach Jerry Kill did not make it back onto the sidelines after the intermission. The second-year head coach had a seizure during halftime. The reports are that Kill went home and his vitals are good.
The lone touchdown for Minnesota came in the first quarter when junior linebacker Aaron Hill snatched up an errant throw by the Spartan’s Andrew Maxwell. He returned the interception 33 yards for the touchdown.
With the loss, the Gophers finish 6-6 on the regular season, still good enough to seal an extra game.
Here are five observations from the loss against Michigan State:
Getting its bell rung
The rushing total for Minnesota is a sad number to look at. It looks horrendous when you peek at the statistic.
Stud running back Le’Veon Bell pounded his way to 266 yards. His opposition could not tackle the bruising running back. Not even a murray of Gophers could take down the junior.
Bell averaged 7.6 yards per carry on Saturday and continues the struggle against big running backs for Minnesota. The issue became prevalent after Mark Weisman of Iowa pilled through the defense whenever he wanted to.
In the Gray area
With MarQueis Gray finally at 100 percent, there was rumbling that he would see a lot of playing time on Saturday, including multiple snaps at quarterback.
That never really took place against the Spartans. The Gophers continued to play conservative throughout the game.
He attempted only one pass and rushed it five times on the day. On Senior Day, Gray left his mark in unconvincing fashion.
When the senior first arrived on the Twin Cities campus, the community felt he would be the savior for Minnesota. Through coaching issues and playing a plethora of positions, Gray never was the savior. He will leave Minnesota as a solid player, but nothing more.
When Philip Nelson took his first snaps at Camp Randall in October, he wowed the doubters that a freshman could take charge of the Minnesota program. A little over a month later, the doubters returned as Nelson could not finish Saturday’s game against Michigan State.
The freshman from Mankato struggled all game long, finishing 10-of-24 for only 61 passing yards. Nelson also threw three interceptions.
Backup Max Shortell aided the Gophers late in the fourth quarter at quarterback, also throwing an interception while completing half of his six pass attempts.
No one is certain what Minnesota will do at the quarterback position when the bowl games comes around next month but it is likely that Nelson will continue to be the quarterback.
A Freshman Spotlight
When a player in high school has offers from smaller schools such as Northern Iowa and Missouri State, you do not expect a lot of production out of said player.
Expectations are lowered when the player is a true freshman on the defensive line. Yet, Alex Keith has been a surprise this season for Kill and the Gophers.
The defensive end added a sack in the second half to go along with an impressive first year with Minnesota. He also had a pass breakup on Saturday.
With D.L. Wilhite graduating, Keith is likely to be inserted into the starting lineup next fall.
Much ado about something
There are many critics who do not believe average college football teams should be rewarded with a bowl game at the end of the season.
Things can be similarly said for Minnesota this season, but there is a valuable part of participating in a bowl game that many do not realize. The team gets to have 15 days of practices.
That is absolutely huge for a youthful team like Minnesota. Nelson gets to be more comfortable in the pocket. The running backs can continue to develop. The units can become more concrete.
A shot at the Meinecke Car Care Bowl may not be glamorous, but those smaller bowls count for a program that continues to develop.