Minnesota-Michigan St. Preview

Michigan State coach Mark Dantonio never stops looking ahead. Whether it's after a dramatic victory or a tough defeat, the leader of the Spartans has taken a positive approach to the next challenge.

With a grueling October schedule behind it, No. 15 Michigan State begins a seemingly less-stressful slate in November when it hosts Minnesota on Saturday.

The Spartans (6-2, 3-1 Big Ten) failed to build on their last-second, 37-31 victory over then-No. 4 Wisconsin on Oct. 22, falling 24-3 at then-No. 13 Nebraska last week.

Michigan State went 3-1 in a stretch which included victories over Ohio State on Oct. 1 and then-No. 11 Michigan on Oct. 15, and is tied with Michigan and Nebraska atop the conference's Legends Division.

Dantonio still has his sights set on an appearance in the inaugural Big Ten championship game, which remains attainable despite last week's loss.

"We've always talked about November is for contenders," Dantonio said. "We've played a tough stretch these last four games, (and) it's going to be a tough stretch these next four. That's just the way it is in November.

"But that's our outlook, that's our mindset. I do feel like all the goals are in front of us. We're tied for the lead in the Legends Division, and if we win out, good things can happen, either way you cut it."

The Spartans' November schedule, though, looks anything but difficult. After hosting Minnesota (2-6, 1-3), they play at Iowa on November 12, versus Indiana on Nov. 19 and at Northwestern on Nov. 26 - four teams with a combined conference record of 4-14.

That's a far cry from facing three consecutive ranked teams to end last month, though Michigan State still must improve on one of its worst offensive performances in recent years.

The Spartans scored their fewest points since Nebraska beat them 17-3 in the 2003 Alamo Bowl, while Kirk Cousins went 11 for 27 with an interception.

Cousins' 86 yards were the fewest of his career as a starter, and the fewest thrown by Michigan State since Bill Burke and Ryan Van Dyke combined for 80 in a victory over Penn State on Nov. 20, 1999.

B.J. Cunningham had his streak of 41 consecutive games with a catch snapped, and the Spartans' 187 total yards was their lowest total since gaining 185 in a loss to Ohio State on Oct. 20, 2007.

Cousins doesn't believe Michigan State's tough October schedule will play a role going forward.

"We performed really well through it until (Saturday), obviously," Cousins said. "We'll be ready for November. We're ready for whatever challenge is thrown at us. That's part of playing in the Big Ten."

Cousins went 9 for 20 for 131 yards and an interception as Michigan State beat Minnesota 31-8 last Nov. 6 after losing the previous three matchups.

The Golden Gophers have lost the last four meetings when the Spartans are in the Top 25, last beating a ranked Michigan State team Nov. 3, 1962.

The task may be just as difficult Saturday, though Minnesota is coming off a 22-21, come-from-behind victory over Iowa last week to give first-year coach Jerry Kill his first conference win.

Quarterback MarQueis Gray scored on a three-yard touchdown run with 2:48 remaining to give the Gophers the victory.

Gray rushed for 62 yards and added 193 and a touchdown through the air. It marked his most passing yards in five games and his first TD pass in four contests.

"MarQueis made some plays out there," Kill said. "It has to be him not me. As the quarterback he has to be the leader, and he did a great job. Our kids hung in there and that is a credit to him. It feels good to see him step up. He is learning."

Gray, who leads the team with 582 yards rushing, will make his first start against the Spartans, who rank second in the nation allowing 228.8 yards per game. Minnesota is averaging 253.8 total yards in Big Ten play.

"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. (Michigan State is) a very, very physical football team. It's not a good time to play them. I can tell you that. They'll be ready to play on Saturday."

The Gophers rushed for only 76 yards in last season's meeting, while Edwin Baker ran for 179 and four touchdowns for the Spartans.


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