WHEN: Saturday, October 15 1:00 PM EST WHERE: SPARTAN STADIUM, EAST LANSING, MI LAST MEETING: MICHIGAN STATE 44 - MINNESOTA 38 ALL TIME: MICHIGAN STATE LEADS 24-14
(EAST LANSING) - Coming off a closer than expected win over Illinois, Michigan State is hoping to build on their 2-1 Big Ten record, but their opponent, the #19 ranked Minnesota Golden Gophers have loftier goals.
The Gophers have visions of Pasadena, CA in their eyes despite last week's loss to Michigan 27-24 when freshman quarterback Chad Henne engineered a two minute drive for the winning score to perfection.
"We will forget about [last week's] game and get ready for Michigan State," said Minnesota defensive tackle Anthony Montgomery. "We know we can't come out flat."
Meanwhile the Spartans are evolving into a far different team than they fielded a season ago. Rather than being a spread team that throws the ball all over the field, the Spartans are surprising opponents with their running game.
The Spartans are averaging 194.3 yards per game, second only to, guess who? Minnesota.
"They give you problems," Gophers coach Glen Mason said. "If you don't watch out, you become too consumed with trying to defend all aspects of the pass on every play, and they kill you on the run."
Minnesota has two tailbacks, Lawrence Maroney and Marion Barber III, averaging over 100 yards rushing per game. As the Spartans look ahead to their next four games against nationally ranked teams including Minnesota, crosstown rival Michigan, Ohio State and Wisconsin, they realize if they want to at least split these four they need to upset someone.
``Ready or not, here they come,'' Michigan State coach John L. Smith said. ``They get tougher from here on out, so we've got to get tougher from here on out.''
WHEN MINNESOTA HAS THE BALL: The Golden Gophers love to run the football. Ranked third in the nation in rushing, the Gophers dynamic duo of Lawrence Maroney and Marion Barber III wear down opposing defenses with their ability to run between the tackles and speed to get to the corner.
Maroney led the way in the Gophers narrow three point loss to Michigan by rushing for 145 yards, including an 80-yard touchdown scamper, while Barber chipped in with 10 yards on 14 carries and a six yard touchdown plunge.
The Minnesota rushing attack sets up play action passing for first year starter Brian Cupito. Cupito has been steady (8-of-22 for 156 yards, 36% completion rate vs. Michigan) but unspectacular. When the Gophers go to the air, Cupito looks for junior wide receiver Jared Ellerson.
Ellerson caught six passes for 83 yards and a touchdown in a losing effort to Michigan. Meanwhile, freshman Ernie Wheelwright had his coming out party a week earlier against Penn State when he led the Gophers in receptions with three for 76 yards.
The Spartans want to keep the offensive line off middle linebacker Ronald Stanley so that he can roam free and make tackles at the line of scrimmage.
While doing so they have to get better pass coverage in the underneath zones by corners Jaren Hayes and Rod Maples. If they allow Cupito and his receivers to play 'pitch and catch' by backing 12 yards off the line of scrimmage and backpeddling, it could be a long day for the Spartans defense.
WHEN MICHIGAN STATE HAS THE BALL Michigan State has to hope for a hot hand from quarterback Drew Stanton. Stanton, while completing 61% of his passes on the season, has yet to have the big passing game that the Spartans spread offense would dictate.
Stanton has been more effective moving the Spartans by running the football, but last week against Illinois, with his high school teammate Agim Shabaj back in the lineup, the two hooked up five times including one for a touchdown.
Stanton made a point of singling out Shabaj as one of the reasons for MSU offensive outburst. While Shabaj may be a security blanket of sorts, he needs to look to freshman Terry Love, who is emerging as a sure handed chain mover and big play wide out Matt Trannon.
It's time for John L. Smith to unleash freshman Jehuu Caulcrick, the most talented of MSU running backs. Caulcrick's brusing style can wear down opposing defensive lines and help MSU to keep the football away from Minnesota's potent run game.
INTANGIBLES Michigan State's special teams are capable of turning the game, but punter Brandon Fields needs to shake off the funk that cost MSU nine points a week ago on a botched field goal hold and a blocked punt. If Fields can keep Minnesota pinned in their own zone, it give MSU a distinct advantage. Minnesota put so much emphasis on finally beating Michigan, will they have a hang over the way they did a season ago? What will happen if Minnesota's run game stalls? Can Cupito win a game by himself against a Big Ten team? Can Michigan State gets some pressure on the first year signal caller?
Michigan State really shouldn't be in this game at halftime, but strange things happen to Minnesota after Michigan week. Look for Stanton to connect with Shabaj and Love while Caulcrick and the running back by committee keeps the chains moving. The Spartans defense stuffs the Minnesota running game and the Gophers can't throw it.
A huge upset. Michigan State 27 - Minnesota 23