Michigan State may be the hottest team in the Big Ten and that’s saying something when you consider the fact that Ohio State has won 23 straight games. Not only does Michigan State have one of the best defenses in the country, but their offense is starting to rev up. Tailback Jeremy Langford has rushed for over 100 yards in six straight games while quarterback Conner Cook has given the Spartans more than adequate play. The Spartans struggled at the quarterback position earlier in the year with Andrew Maxwell under center. One could argue that as soon as Cook took over on a full time basis, the Spartans offense found their groove.
Needless to say, the Gophers offense and defense will have their work cut out for them against a Michigan State team that is strong on both sides of the ball.
Minnesota Offense: After a superb four game stretch for the Gophers offense, they stubbed their toe against Wisconsin as the Badgers held the Minnesota offense scoreless and limited them to 185 total yards. The Gophers were dropping passes and when they weren’t dropping passes, Philip Nelson was missing his receivers. It wasn’t a good look from the Gophers last week and a similar performance this week in East Lansing will leave them with almost no chance against the Spartans.
Michigan State Offense: As I mentioned earlier, the Spartans are heating up on offense. Early in the year, they struck fear into almost no one. However, this Spartans offense looks nothing like the offense they were trotting onto the field in September. Not unlike the Gophers in that regard. The Gophers found David Cobb at running back while the Spartans have found Jeremy Langford.
Offensive Edge: Michigan State
Minnesota Defense: The Gophers played their best game of the year on defense last week against Wisconsin. They held the Badgers to their lowest point total of the year at 20 points. They also held the Badgers to just 197 rushing yards when the Badgers were averaging more than 300 per game. The Spartans are similar in style to Wisconsin and they’re going to try to attack Minnesota downhill.
Michigan State Defense: This is the best defense in the country. They have no flaws. The Spartans have big, physical corners that are going to be playing on Sundays in a few years — guys like senior cornerback Darqueze Dennard. Defensive Coordinator Pat Narduzzi is the architect of the defense and is one of the rising stars in college coaching.
Defensive Edge: Michigan State
Minnesota Special Teams: Is it just me or has Marcus Jones been awfully quiet of late? I think he’s due to break one, don’t you? This would be a perfect game for it because not only are the Gophers going to need to win the turnover battle to have a chance in this one, but they may need a defensive or special teams score as well. Paging Mr. Jones. The Gophers will likely be punting a lot against the Spartans defense, but they’ll be in great shape with All Big Ten candidate Peter Mortell.
Michigan State Special Teams: Michigan State kicker Michael Geiger has connected on 12-of-13 field goals, including a perfect 6-of-6 from 40-49 yards out. Mark Dantonio coached teams are always excellent on defense and special teams and this Spartans team is certainly no different.
Special Teams Edge: Minnesota
Minnesota Coaching: Jerry Kill and his staff are the glue of the Minnesota program. They truly are building it from the ground up and it’s trending perfectly. Kill has gone from three wins in his first year, to six in the second year, and now eight and counting in year three. Frankly, I anticipated the Gophers breakout year to be next year, and I’m sticking to that. Epilepsy schmepilepsy! In Kill we trust.
Michigan State Coaching: Mark Dantonio may be the most underrated coach in college football as this guy has been a rock for the Spartans. Defensive coordinator Pat Narduzzi is a rising star and it’s only a matter of time before he becomes a head coach himself.
Coaching Edge: Even
Michigan State 24, Minnesota 6: If the Gophers thought it was difficult moving the ball against Wisconsin, wait until they get a load of Michigan State.