Burke is Spartans’ barometer

Michael Dougherty

Despite Gophers coach Glen Mason’s insistence that quarterbacks “get way too much credit when a team is playing good, and take way too much blame when it’s playing bad,” Michigan State’s quarterback puts a large dent in Mason’s logic.
Spartans coach Nick Saban said his quarterback, Bill Burke, has been a barometer for his team’s play. With a 3-3 record (1-1 in the Big Ten), Michigan State has looked brilliant in a 45-23 drubbing of Notre Dame and a 38-7 romp over Central Michigan.
But the Spartans have looked ordinary in losses to Michigan and Colorado State, and downright awful in a 48-14 blowout loss to Oregon.
In those three wins, Burke has gone 53-of-71 for 792 yards and nine touchdowns. In the three losses, his numbers plummet to 34-of-90 for 404 yards, three interceptions and only three touchdowns.
“Bill Burke’s play has been how we’ve played,” Saban said. “The games that he’s played well in, we’ve been very successful offensively. When Bill plays well, we utilize more of our offensive weapons.”
Michigan State edged Indiana 38-31 in the Spartans’ last game two weeks ago. Thanks to a bye week last weekend, Saban said his battered squad used the time off to rest.
“We had a couple of guys banged up in the Indiana game and a significant number of players who couldn’t have played if we would have had a game this past weekend,” Saban said.
The Gophers, meanwhile, spent last Saturday watching No. 1 Ohio State use them for tackling dummies in a 45-15 Buckeyes rout.
After starting the season with three straight wins over sub-par non-conference opponents, the Gophers have dropped all three of their conference games against teams with a combined record of 14-5.
But when asked if he was letting his team know they finally have a chance to win a game, Mason said that’s the biggest mistake he could make.
“As a coach, the thing you never say is, `Okay, we’ve played the No. 1 team, and the No. 4 team and the No. 10 team — thank God we’re playing an unranked team, now we’ve got a chance,’ because that’s when you play your worst,” Mason said.
A Homecoming win over the Spartans would definitely improve Minnesota’s chances of making a bowl game, something the Gophers still claim to be a realistic goal. But a loss would put those chances to rest.
The last time Minnesota defeated Michigan State, Gophers defensive coordinator David Gibbs was probably working on multiplication tables in the second grade. The Spartans have won 17 in a row over Minnesota, with the last Gophers win coming in 1976.
When Mason was at Kansas, however, Oklahoma State had beaten the Jayhawks 17 straight times before his Kansas team finally stopped the streak with a win in 1990.
The Gophers have also lost four Homecoming games in a row, and would desperately love to end all three streaks on Saturday.
Minnesota defensive lineman Jon Michals said a Gophers victory is a necessity.
“It’s very important, not because of Homecoming, but because we just need to win a game,” he said. “We’re very capable of beating Michigan State. Everyone says we’re underdogs, but I think we match up pretty well.”