Similar teams trying to bounce back

Michigan State visits after a last-minute loss to Iowa and brings the conference’s top defender and pass offense to TCF.

Similar teams trying to bounce back

Marco LaNave

For the second time this season, the Gophers will try to cope with the loss of a teammate whose college football career might be over. Four weeks ago, senior center Jeff Tow-Arnett injured his right leg in the final minutes of a loss to Wisconsin. The following week, the Gophers dedicated their Oct. 10 homecoming win over Purdue to him . Minnesota (2-3 Big Ten, 4-4 overall) seeks its first victory since that game in similar circumstances. Senior wide receiver Eric Decker , the only player in program history to catch 200 passes and amass 3,000 career receiving yards , will miss at least the rest of the regular season because of a left foot sprain he suffered at Ohio State last Saturday. âÄúItâÄôs a shame; I love the way Eric plays, and he gives 110 percent to the team,âÄù senior captain and linebacker Lee Campbell said. âÄúHeâÄôs a playmaker, and just like when Jeff went down, weâÄôre going to try and win this next game for Deck.âÄù The next game comes Saturday night in a 7 p.m. Halloween matchup against Michigan State (3-2, 4-4) at TCF Bank Stadium. Last Saturday, the Spartans came within the final play of upsetting undefeated Iowa in East Lansing, Mich. Head coach Mark Dantonio explained to reporters Tuesday how the last-second loss compelled him to go through the seven stages of grief . Dantonio, whose team has lost four games by a combined 15 points this season, said he had reached the final stage of acceptance and hope as he prepared for the first game since 2006 between the similar programs. Dantonio and Gophers head coach Tim Brewster are each in their third years with their respective programs. Dantonio was hired in November 2006 after Michigan State dropped in the Big Ten standings and failed to reach a bowl game in each of the previous three seasons. Dantonio, who coached from 2004 to 2006 at Cincinnati, is 20-14 (12-9 in Big Ten games) as Michigan StateâÄôs head coach. Brewster is 12-21 (5-16 in the Big Ten) at Minnesota. Saturday will mark the first game between the two coaches. The Spartans have the Big TenâÄôs third-best run defense, led by junior middle linebacker Greg Jones, whose 97 tackles are tied for the most in the country. According to Rivals.com, Jones committed to Minnesota in December 2006, the final month in the tenure of former Gophers head coach Glen Mason. Less than three weeks after Mason was fired (and one day after the announcement of Brewster as MinnesotaâÄôs new head coach), Jones committed to Michigan State . On Tuesday, Dantonio, who recruited Jones while at Cincinnati, recounted an amusing story about convincing the Cincinnati native to come to Michigan State. âÄúI remember finally getting to the heart of the problem as to exactly why he wanted to go to Minnesota. âÄòWhy Minnesota?âÄô and he said, âÄòCoach, Mall of America,âÄô âÄù Dantonio said. âÄúHe just likes going to malls and hanging out and stuff like that, and I said, âÄòHey, weâÄôve got malls in East LansingâÄô âĦ He came on a visit [to Michigan State] and we got him out to the malls and we got him to be a Spartan âĦ You never know whatâÄôs going to turn a guy.âÄù Jones led the Spartans and all Big Ten freshmen in tackles two years ago and finished third in the conference in tackles as a sophomore. This year, he was voted by the media as the Preseason Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year. The Gophers are more than surviving without Jones, however, as their three senior linebackers rank among the top 12 tacklers in the conference. Campbell, who is second in the Big Ten (third in the country) with 90 tackles, has been impressed by his Michigan State counterpart. âÄúHe plays sound football; heâÄôs in the right spot most of the time, and he makes big plays,âÄù Campbell said. CampbellâÄôs task on Saturday will be to stop the Big TenâÄôs leading passing offense. Spartans sophomore quarterbacks Kirk Cousins and Keith Nichol, who split time at the position, rank second and third, respectively, in the Big Ten in pass efficiency. Their top target is senior wide receiver Blair White who is tied for the Big Ten lead in touchdown receptions, third in the conference in receiving yards and fifth in receptions. He has three 100-yard receiving games this season. âÄú[HeâÄôs a] big, physical receiver; he reminds me a lot of [Decker] sometimes, just watching him and what he does and things he contributes,âÄù senior linebacker Simoni Lawrence said. On Saturday, the Gophers hope someone else can step up and fill DeckerâÄôs spot with some type of offensive spark. Without the teamâÄôs top target, and going against a stout run defense, someone will have to try to carry the load and protect the home field.