Gophers struggle from start to finish at No. 16 Michigan State

Minnesota fell 31-8 to drop to 1-9 on the season.

Gophers junior tight end Eric Lair attempts to dodge Michigan's senior line backer Greg Jones Saturday at Spartan Stadium.

Gophers junior tight end Eric Lair attempts to dodge Michigan’s senior line backer Greg Jones Saturday at Spartan Stadium.

Josh Katzenstein

The Minnesota football team needed just four plays to reach the red zone on the first drive during SaturdayâÄôs game against No. 16 Michigan State.

After three plays moving backward or for no gain, the drive stalled. And when Eric Ellestad pushed a 32-yard field goal try to the right, the Gophers squandered another seemingly successful drive.

The Spartans dodged two near interceptions on their next drive and marched 80 yards in just more than three minutes to take a 7-0 lead, and they never looked back, gliding to a 31-8 victory at Spartan Stadium.

During each week of the GophersâÄô nine-game losing streak, theyâÄôve added a new wrinkle to the plot âÄî the firing of Tim Brewster on Oct. 17 and MarQueis Gray taking snaps at quarterback Saturday, for example âÄî but the storyline remains the same.

In the loss to Michigan State (9-1, 5-1 Big Ten), the Gophers (1-9, 0-6) offense consistently stalled, the defense struggled to tackle opponents on first contact and the punting unit failed to help win the field-position battle.

Even with mixing Gray in at quarterback as early as the third offensive series, the Gophers couldnâÄôt find any spark on offense, managing just 267 total yards and only 98 in the first half.

On defense, the Gophers simply couldnâÄôt contain Edwin Baker. The sophomore running back truly put the Spartans on his back, running for 179 yards on 27 carries and scoring all four of Michigan StateâÄôs touchdowns.

âÄúHeâÄôs a really good running back,âÄù Gophers cornerback Troy Stoudermire said. âÄúA running back like that, youâÄôve got to wrap up.âÄù

Stoudermire finished with six tackles, including one for a loss, and was one of few Gophers who could wrap up Baker. The Michigan State back became the seventh player this season to eclipse the 100-yard mark against the Gophers, and like Ohio StateâÄôs Dan âÄúBoomâÄù Herron last week, Baker needed only one half to do it.

âÄúWhen a running back is doing pretty good like that, all you can do is just tell everyone to keep doing their job, donâÄôt ever give up,âÄù Stoudermire said. âÄúEven though weâÄôre down âĦ youâÄôve got to keep playing. You can never stop.âÄù

Despite being down 21-0, the defense was lively after the first half. Two of BakerâÄôs three first-half touchdowns came on fourth-and-goal from inside the 1-yard line because the defense stuffed the Spartans on third down.

In the end, the Gophers held Michigan State to just 320 yards of offense, their best effort in a loss this season. Middle Tennessee only gained 318 yards when the Gophers won their Sept. 2 contest, 24-17.

âÄúOur defense had the upper hand. They came in [the locker room] fired up because they knew that they were doing a great job,âÄù said Gray about the halftime vibe. âÄúOn the offensive side of the ball, we just came in with our heads down.

âÄúWe believe that itâÄôs too late in the season to have a team come out on top of us like that.âÄù

The Spartans held Minnesota to 98 first-half yards, and although the Gophers scored a touchdown and two-point conversion in the fourth quarter, they never had any rhythm on offense.

Junior running back DeLeon Eskridge ran for 31 yards on 17 carries, an average of just 1.8 yards.

Senior quarterback Adam Weber finished 15-of-22 for 167 yards with a touchdown and an interception in the red zone. WeberâÄôs completion percentage was the highest of the season, but pressure from the Spartans kept him from throwing downfield much.

DaâÄôJon McKnight had no catches in the first half and finished with only four receptions for 57 yards.

Gray was the lone bright spot on offense for the Gophers. He only had one catch âÄî a 9-yard, tip-toe touchdown âÄî but he ran for 31 yards on five carries as quarterback. The numbers arenâÄôt outrageous, and he completed only two of six passes, but with the limited snaps, Gray offered some hope for next season.

âÄúI think MarQueis is going to come in next year, and we wonâÄôt miss a beat,âÄù tight end Eric Lair said.