Quick Hitters: Michigan State 30, Minnesota 27

Backup quarterback Demry Croft came in after Conor Rhoda was benched.

Drew Cove

Final score:

Michigan State 30, Minnesota 27.

Recap:

Another Big Ten game spelled another Big Ten loss for the Gophers, keeping them winless in conference games this season.

Backup quarterback Demry Croft played for the first time since Sept. 9. He came in relief of Conor Rhoda, who at the time had led Minnesota only to two field goals late in the second quarter.

Michigan State scored evenly throughout the game, getting at least six points in each quarter. Running back LJ Scott collected 194 yards on 25 carries for two touchdowns. Michigan State’s defense held Minnesota at bay for the first three quarters, but then Croft found a rhythm.

The Gophers were down 23-6 and 30-13 at different points within the fourth quarter, and Michigan State’s rush defense held Minnesota’s most reliable run-game to just 74 yards in the contest. 

Croft then threw three touchdowns to wide receiver Tyler Johnson – just in the fourth quarter. The Croft-Johnson connection came too late, though, as the Gophers only got within three points of the Spartans, but couldn’t take the lead.

Key play:

After Minnesota narrowed the score to 23-13, Michigan State’s Connor Heyward returned the kickoff 55 yards into Minnesota territory. The Spartans scored on that drive to increase their lead to 30-13, and that was enough for the victory.

It was over when:

The Gophers tried an onside kick to try and get the ball right after they scored, but it was recovered by the Spartans, and they used time outs to run the clock and secure the 30-27 victory.

Five observations:

1. The Gophers have a decision to make at quarterback

Minnesota played almost two entire halves with two quarterbacks playing in each. 

Rhoda has been the starter since the third game of the season. Croft was suspended from the team for two games and didn’t see any action for three, but he threw for 163 yards in just over a half of play against the Spartans.

2. Tyler Johnson is still the top receiver

Minnesota lacked a top wide receiver target coming into the season, but Johnson has stepped up and made many plays for the team this season, including three touchdown receptions and 106 yards against Michigan State.

3. The Gophers’ running game faltered

The Gophers only got 74 total rushing yards, and only 51 from the tandem of Rodney Smith and Shannon Brooks. Croft came in and rushed for 31 yards, but Rhoda exited the game with -10 rushing yards.

4. Depleted secondary stops Michigan State’s passing game

While Minnesota allowed 245 rushing yards, the team only gave up 120 yards through the air.  Part of that success came from safety Duke McGhee, returning from his suspension from the team. He got an interception in the first quarter.

5. The Gophers couldn’t capitalize on turnovers early

The Gophers and Spartans found ways to drop the ball early in the rainy game. 

Minnesota recovered a fumble three yards from the end zone in the first quarter, but lost four yards and settled for three points. Also in the first quarter, the drive after McGhee’s interception only gained five yards, and scored a field goal there as well.

Quote of the game:

“What I saw out there, in the last 10 minutes, was a team I couldn’t wait to see,” said head coach P.J. Fleck. “That was different… They were all playing for each other.”

Up Next:

The Gophers face off on Saturday, Oct. 21 at 2:30 p.m. against Illinois, an opponent that is also winless in the conference. Minnesota had a strong second half showing in the last game, and Illinois has lost four consecutive games.