GAME NOTES: With their spot in the Big Ten Conference Championship Game assured, the 13th-ranked Michigan State Spartans close the curtain on the 2013 regular season with a home game against the Minnesota Golden Gophers.
Minnesota is heading to the postseason after winning eight of its first 11 games, but the team is coming off a 20-7 loss to No. 16 Wisconsin in frigid Minneapolis last weekend. The loss ended a four-game win streak for coach Jerry Kill's club, was the 10th straight in the series with the Badgers, and kept Paul Bunyan's Axe in Madison for at least one more year.
Michigan State is 10-1 on the season, and its perfect 7-0 league ledger gave it the Legends Division title outright for the second time in the last three years. The Spartans are in the midst of a seven-game win streak, with last week's 30-6 triumph over Northwestern being the latest.
Coach Mark Dantonio had nothing by praise for his team following the win over the Wildcats.
"I want to congratulate our football team. Ten wins. Legends [Division] champions and as we go forward it's exciting times. We've talked about there being moments that we'd remember for the rest of our lives and I think that's what is happening for us so we just need to continue and press on."
Michigan State owns a 28-17 lead in the all-time series with Minnesota, and the Spartans have won each of the last three meetings.
The Golden Gophers were stymied at virtually every turn in last Saturday's loss to Wisconsin, as they finished with only 185 yards of total offense (102 rushing, 83 passing). Philip Nelson completed just 7-of-23 passes, and no receiver had more than two catches. David Cobb was high man on the ground, but he managed just 68 yards on 17 carries.
The Minnesota defense permitted 324 total yards while holding the Badgers to 4-of-16 success on third-down conversion attempts. Antonio Johnson paced the Gophers with 10 tackles, eight of which were solo efforts, and Aaron Hill scored the only points of the game for UM, taking an interception back 39 yards for a TD at the beginning of the second quarter.
Cobb has really been the lone bright spot on an otherwise pedestrian Minnesota offense this season, as he has rushed for 1,010 yards and seven TDs. He averages better than five yards per carry in helping the Gophers churn out 207.9 ypg on the ground. The team's passing attack results in only 143.4 ypg, with Nelson completing only 53.4 percent of his throws for 1,211 yards, nine TDs, but only four interceptions.
The Minnesota defense has been the primary reason the teams has achieved the vast majority of its goals this season, as foe are scoring just 23.1 ppg in gaining 375.6 ypg (151.5 ypg rushing, 224.1 ypg passing). Damien Wilson leads the unit with 65 tackles, while Theiren Cockran has 6.5 of the team's meager 15 sacks, and Aaron Hill has two of its nine picks.
Connor Cook threw for a career-high 293 yards and two TDs, while Jeremy Langford ran for 150 yards and two scores to lead Michigan State to victory against Northwestern last weekend. When the dust had settled, the Spartans had piled 464 yards of total offense, compared to just 319 for the Wildcats. Bennie Fowler certainly made the most of his two catches on the day, taking one of them 87 yards for a score near the end of the first half.
Michigan State's top-rated defense stood tall against the run last week, allowing only 80 net yards, and the unit got solid efforts from a host of individuals, not the least of which were Darqueze Dennard (nine tackles, one INT) and Kurtis Drummond (two INTs).
Much like Cobb for Minnesota, MSU's Langford has been the one consistent performer on the offense, earning 1,076 yards and a Big Ten-best 15 TDs on the ground, helping the team as a whole generate 186.6 ypg rushing and 385.3 ypg in all. Cook has thrown for nearly 2,000 yards with 16 TDs and only three INTs, while three guys, led by Macgarrett Kings have at least 30 receptions.
The Spartans are tops in the nation in total defense (236.6 ypg), with their effort against the run (59.4 ypg) also ranking it No. 1. The unit's effort against the pass (177.3 ypg) isn't anything to sneeze at, and guys like Drummond (71 tackles, four INTs), Denicos Allen (70 tackles, 13 TFL, five sacks), Dennard (47 tackles, four INTs) and Shilique Calhoun (25 tackles, 11 TFL, 6.5 sacks, 17 QB Hurries) have shined the brightest.
With little to play for except pride, the Spartans aren't likely to risk their better players getting hurt a week before the conference title game, so this could be a game the Golden Gophers can steal, as they try to improve their postseason prospects.
Sports Network Predicted Outcome: Minnesota 24, Michigan State 23