Hard Work Finally Pays Off For Gophers

Jerry Kill has been teaching his players lessons since he arrived on campus in December to take the head coaching job. While not all of the lessons have sunk in yet, one has paid off and it showed in last week's 22-21 win over Iowa.

"As I told them at the end of the game, playing hard doesn't promise you a victory, but it guarantees you a darned chance and this is what we've been trying to tell you," Kill said. "Everybody has got to play hard."

The win was Minnesota's first in the Big Ten this season and broke a four-game losing streak. The Gophers are 1-3 in the Leaders Division and 2-6 overall going into Saturday's game at Michigan State.

"Mentally, I think we're in much better shape than we were a week ago because you get a win," Kill said.

The Gophers' injury list, which seems to grow by the week, is something Kill is concerned about. Minnesota has already played heavyweights such as Southern California, Michigan and Nebraska. A trip to Wisconsin follows this week's game. Kill knows his banged-up team is likely in for more bumps and bruises.

"Physically, I worry about it because we expended a lot on the field, and we're not the biggest group in the world," he said.

Adding to the challenge of playing Michigan State, which is tied for first in the Legends Division with a 3-1 record and a 6-2 overall mark, is the fact the Spartans are coming off a 24-3 loss to Nebraska. Kill knows Michigan State will be ready to play after that stinging loss.

"We're going to play a great, great football team, a tremendous defensive football team," Kill said. "It will be a great challenge for our football team. It's not a good time to play them. I can tell you that."

NOTES, QUOTES

--Receiver/kick returner Marcus Jones will have surgery for a torn anterior cruciate ligament and will miss the rest of the season. He injured his knee in practice the week of the Iowa game. The freshman, who returned a kickoff 92 yards for a touchdown against Purdue, ranks third in the Big Ten in kick returns, averaging 28.5 yards. Jones also has caught nine passes for a 15.8 yard average.

"I think he'll bounce back off the surgery pretty well because of the type of kid he is.," coach Jerry Kill said. "He'll work hard. I'm cautiously optimistic he'll be ready to go in the spring."

--The Gophers created a turnover for the first time in four games against Iowa. Defensive back Kyle Henderson forced a fumble when he sacked quarterback James Vandenberg. Tackle Brandon Kirksey recovered and returned the ball to Minnesota's 49-yard line, which set up a field goal. It was the first turnover forced by the Gophers since cornerback Troy Stoudermire intercepted a pass against Miami (Ohio) on Sept. 17.

--This will be the second straight season the Gophers have played Michigan State in East Lansing. Minnesota dropped a 31-8 decision last season.

SERIES HISTORY: Michigan State leads Minnesota 26-17 (last meeting, 2010, 31-8 Michigan State)

SCOUTING THE OFFENSE: The Gophers will face a big test against one of the top defenses in the country. Michigan State has the No. 2 rated total defense in the nation and allows 228.8 yards per game. The Spartans give up 15 points a game and rank No. 6 in scoring defense. On paper, that's not a good matchup for the Gophers, who average 18.0 points a game. Quarterback MarQueis Gray will have to take care of the football and make good decisions while the line must control Michigan State at the point of attack.

SCOUTING THE DEFENSE: Given the fact Iowa's Marcus Coker ran for 252 yards last week against Minnesota, the Spartans' strategy should be clear. Michigan State will pound the ball until the Gophers prove they can stop the running game. If there was ever a game the defense needed to create some turnovers, this is it. However, that hasn't been a strong suit all season. Minnesota has only forced five turnovers (three interceptions and two fumbles) in eight games.

QUOTE TO NOTE: He's a competitive kid. He's a senior. He's been through a lot. Duane has been great to me since the day I walked in the door. He's been a very positive kid." -- Minnesota coach Jerry Kill, on Gophers running back Duane Bennett.

STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL

THIS WEEK'S GAME: Minnesota at Michigan State Nov. 5 -- While the Gophers are coming off a rare win, the Spartans are coming off a rare loss. Michigan State was dominated in all phases of the game in last week's 24-3 defeat at Nebraska. The Spartans are in a three-way tie for first place in the Legends Division.

KEYS TO THE GAME: Stop the Spartans. The Gophers will have to rely on their defense to stay in the game. It's doubtful Minnesota's offense will score many points so it will be up to the defense to keep the game close.

PLAYERS TO WATCH:

QB MarQueis Gray -- He directed his first fourth-quarter comeback in the Iowa win. His three-yard touchdown run with 2:48 left put the Gophers ahead for good. Gray completed 11-of-17 passes for 181 yards and one touchdown with no interceptions. His 64.7 percent completion rate was a career-best.

WR Devin Crawford-Tufts -- The true freshman had the first 100-yard receiving game of his career last week on catches of 61 and 39 yards. He has made only six catches for the season, but has shown big-play ability with an average of 22 yards per reception.

S Kim Royston -- The sixth-year season, who missed all of 2010 with a broken leg, leads the team with 77 tackles. Royston had a career-high 16 tackles against Iowa and recovered an onside kick in the fourth quarter, which led to Minnesota's game-winning scoring drive.

K Jordan Wettstein -- He was named the Big Ten Special Teams Player of the Week for his performance against Iowa. Making his first career start in place of the injured Chris Hawthorne, the junior walk-on converted his only field goal attempt, a 28-yarder in the third quarter, and made his only extra point try. His successful onside kick attempt in the fourth quarter led to the winning touchdown.

ROSTER REPORT

--WR/KR Marcus Jones will have surgery for a torn anterior cruciate knee ligament and will miss the rest of the season.

--K Chris Hawthorne didn't play against Iowa because of a sore quad muscle. He's questionable to play against Michigan State.

--CB/KR Troy Stoudermire has missed the last four games because of a fractured left wrist. He's questionable to play against Michigan State.

--LG Tommy Olson started against Iowa, but left the game with an undisclosed injury. He was replaced by Caleb Bok, who saw his first action of the season.

--RB Devon Wright has missed the last three games because of a hamstring injury. He's questionable to play against Michigan State.

--LB Brendan Beal didn't play against Iowa because of a knee injury. He's doubtful for the Michigan State game.

--OL Josh Campion is expected to miss the rest of the season because of a concussion.

--DE Harold Legania has missed the last three games because of a foot injury.

--OT Jimmy Gjere has missed the last four games because of a concussion.

--DE Leston Simpson has missed the last three games because of a head injury.


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