U football hopes to break Spartans’ streak

Michael Dougherty

The last time the Gophers beat Michigan State in Minneapolis was Nov. 18, 1972, when Minnesota won 14-10 at Memorial Stadium.
To get an idea of how long ago that really was, Gophers coach Glen Mason was in his first year of coaching as a graduate assistant at Ball State. Current Michigan State coach Nick Saban, meanwhile, was a senior at Kent State.
Minnesota has lost 17 games in a row to Michigan State, including a 31-10 win in East Lansing, Mich., during the Spartans homecoming last year.
The key to ending the losing streak will be stopping the Spartans running attack, which features All-Big Ten selection Sedrick Irvin at tailback and former Eden Prairie star Leroy McFadden at fullback.
In last year’s game, Minnesota contained Irvin with some success on the ground, limiting him to 72 yards on 21 rushes. However, he caught five balls for 79 yards and a touchdown.
The Gophers defense, which had been ranked eighth nationally against the run before giving up 236 yards to the Buckeyes in Saturday’s 45-15 Ohio State win, saw its ranking plummet nine spots to No. 17 and the per-game average rise from 84 yards allowed to more than 109.
Mason said he blames the huge numbers on the tentativeness of his defensive line — especially his linebackers.
“I was not pleased with the play of our linebackers in the Ohio State game,” Mason said. “They were worried about making a mistake and that’s not how you’re supposed to play.”
Gophers defensive lineman Jon Michals was one player who Mason said played well in the loss to top-ranked Ohio State.
The junior from Oak Creek, Wis., said he thinks Irvin is a great back, but is confident the Gophers (3-3, 0-3 in the Big Ten) match up well with the Spartans (3-3, 1-1). He admitted the Minnesota defense was not up to par against the Buckeyes.
“Last week we took a step back as a unit, and that happens once in awhile,” Mason said. “But hopefully it will be the last time.”
The Gophers will also have to contain Michigan State quarterback Bill Burke. A junior who has looked spectacular in wins over Notre Dame and Central Michigan, Burke has experienced trouble in other games when he gets some intense pressure.
Protected by a fairly inexperienced offensive line, Burke has been sacked 26 times this season, the second-worst in the Big Ten conference ahead of only Minnesota.
Gophers defensive coordinator David Gibbs said his defense is specifically designed to stack the line and put pressure on the quarterback, and the Spartans offensive line has been hit hard by injuries.
But while he admits the defense has been lit up the past couple of weeks, he said he feels confident his group is improving.
“Michigan State has had some injuries on their offensive line and they’ve given up some sacks, so we’re going to try to get after (Burke),” Gibbs said.
But Gibbs said his squad has to be careful not to pursue the quarterback recklessly, otherwise they will get burnt by Irvin.
“I don’t think you ever stop a guy like Irvin because he’s too hard to tackle,” Gibbs said. “So despite the injuries to the offensive line, when they’ve got a running back that good, I don’t know that they have to block everybody.”
Gibbs said Irvin killed his team catching balls out of the backfield last year, and his players had trouble wrapping him up and bringing him down.
In the Ohio State game, Gophers defensive end Curtese Poole dropped back in pass coverage a few times, but Gibbs said the experiment didn’t work as well as planned, adding not much of anything worked well against the Buckeyes.
“We’ve watched a lot of film on those screen plays they run,” Poole said. “We’ll have a lot of guys going to the ball, so we think we’re prepared.”