Michigan State made the Big Ten race very interesting last week by losing to Iowa. Now, they are in four-way tie atop the conference with one loss, and they do not have as much control over where they may end up in the postseason. Luckily, one-win Minnesota comes to town this week, sitting dead last in the Big Ten at 0-5. They have given up just over 300 total points on the year, in which they have lost to three ranked opponents by an average of twenty six points a game. If there is a week to get back on track, this would be the one. A victory would give the Spartans a record of 9-1 heading into their bye week, with only two more games remaining on the schedule. It is realistic that MSU could finish 11-1 and earn themselves their first ever BCS berth. Michigan State cannot squander an opportunity to get another victory against a lesser opponent, in which there will be three keys to this week’s game.
First, Michigan State must become a more balanced team on offense. The running game has disappeared the last few weeks, leaving Kirk Cousins and the wide receivers to having to do it all to win ball games for the Spartans. We saw what happened last week against Iowa, if the running game is non-existent and Cousins has an off day. If they are to truly contend for a Big Ten Championship this year, and down the road, then they must re-establish that powerful run game they displayed through week six. It could help this week that they will be going up against a Golden Gopher defense that is ranked 10th in total defense, giving up a whopping 417 yards a game.
Second, I am curious to see how Michigan State will bounce back from such a lopsided loss to a ranked team. They have showed that this is not the same Spartan teams of the past, and going out and pummeling Minnesota should reaffirm this notion. It will be the first time this year that MSU will be playing the week after a loss, so it should be interesting to see how they will respond against a weaker opponent. Finally, Michigan State learned their lesson last week on how turning the ball over will hurt your chances of winning the game. Cousins threw three interceptions that led to thirteen Hawkeye points. All were scored in the first half, which means if you take away those points; the score could have easily been a seventeen point game, instead of a thirty point lead for Iowa at halftime. That drastically changes how the game is played, in which MSU has a chance coming out of the locker room in the second half. The Spartans must get back to taking care of the ball, while still forcing opponent’s into turnover themselves.
When Michigan State has the ball: I look for Kirk Cousins to bounce back from one of his worst games as a Spartan. He threw almost as many interceptions in that game last week (3), as he did in the previous eight games combined (4). Minnesota is last in scoring defense, giving up over 34 points a game, so Cousins and Co. should have no problem finding a rhythm, and putting up some big numbers this week. To have success, Cousins must keep taking advantage of throwing to his talented group of wide receivers, led by Senior Mark Dell. He is 5th in the Big Ten in receiving yards per game, averaging 68.7, with 39 receptions and 4 touchdowns on the year. Even though Minnesota’s defense ranks last in almost every defensive category, they still have two players in the top ten in tackles this year. S Kyle Theret, 55 tackles, and LB Gary Tinsley, 69 tackles, are playmakers who could start on most teams in the Big Ten.
When Minnesota has the ball: I must recognize the great job that the Spartan secondary has done this year. Safety Trenton Robinson leads the Big Ten in passes defended, with 7 pass breakups and 3 interceptions. CB Johnny Adams is 7th in this same category, with 4 pass breakups and 3 interceptions. The secondary as a whole has combined for 12 interceptions, good for 9th overall in the country. Not to mention, the Spartans will get their best cover guy and tackler back for the entire game this week, in CB Chris L. Rucker. He was just starting to hit his stride, when he made a bone headed decision that kept him out of two and a half games. Now, the 2nd leading tackler amongst cornerbacks in the Big Ten returns, and hopefully, with the same presence he had before he was suspended. The defense must improve this week, especially when it comes to tackling and being more disciplined. Minnesota should not be a tough matchup on defense for the Spartans, considering they are dead last in rushing offense and 10th in scoring offense. I look for MSU to do what they have done all year on this side of the ball: rush the passer and make plays in the secondary.
Michigan State will be a little on edge this week, after suffering their first loss of the season. The Spartans should, and will take out their anger and aggression on the Golden Gophers…
Prediction: Michigan State 45 Minnesota 17
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Written by David Lesmeister