Daily Breakdown: Gophers face tough task with first ranked opponent in Michigan State

Michigan State is ranked No. 21 coming into the weekend.

The Gopher football team runs onto the field on Saturday, Sept. 30 at TCF Bank Stadium.

Courtney Deutz

The Gopher football team runs onto the field on Saturday, Sept. 30 at TCF Bank Stadium.

Drew Cove

Minnesota is winless in the Big Ten this season, and they might stay that way for another week.

After two consecutive conference games, two consecutive losses to Big Ten teams and two consecutive games where quarterback Conor Rhoda threw an interception in the last minute of play, Minnesota looks to break from the trends that have followed the team recently.

The Gophers (3-2, 0-2 Big Ten) face a tough task against their first ranked opponent of the season — No. 21 Michigan State.

The Spartans (4-1, 2-0 Big Ten) just beat their in-state rival Michigan 14-10 last week. The Wolverines were ranked No. 7, and Michigan State was unranked at the time.

When Minnesota runs the ball:

While Minnesota can usually count on their running game to solidify its offense, that might be a different story against Michigan State.

The Spartans run defense is currently No. 9 in the country, and have only allowed 486 rushing yards all season. The opposition has averaged close to 100 yards per game against Michigan State.

The Gophers had a resurgence in rushing yards last week against Purdue, totaling 227 yards on the ground, after only running for 80 yards against Maryland.

The offensive line has had some injuries of late with right tackle Nick Connelly going down against Purdue, but center Jared Weyler is close to returning. That return could provide some stability in blocking for the run game to procure yards.

Matchup to watch:

RB Shannon Brooks vs. LB Joe Bachie

Advantage: Michigan State

When Michigan State runs the ball:

Michigan State’s quarterback Brian Lewerke leads the team in rushing yards, with 309 yards all season. 

The top-two running backs for the Spartans don’t have as many yards as Lewerke, and they average between 31 and 54 yards per game. Minnesota’s defense held Purdue to 132 rushing yards on Saturday.

The depth at linebacker makes the defensive unit versatile up front and through the middle, making an effective run-stopping unit.

Matchup to watch:

LB Thomas Barber vs. RB Madre London

Advantage: Minnesota

When Minnesota passes the ball:

Quarterback Conor Rhoda’s last two games haven’t been good enough to get Minnesota the victory.

Rhoda threw for two touchdowns against Purdue, but only completed 11 of 25 passes for 101 yards with one interception. Against Maryland, Rhoda fared similarly, going 13 of 26 for 229 yards, with one touchdown and two interceptions in the red zone.

The Spartans’ pass defense is just as good as their rush defense, ranked No. 9 nationally in yards allowed, according to ESPN. They have allowed 807 yards through the air this season, less than 162 yards per game, to the opposition offense.

Matchup to watch: 

WR Tyler Johnson vs. S David Dowell

Advantage: Michigan State

When Michigan State passes the ball:

Michigan State’s passing game was stalled by Michigan’s defense last week, with Lewerke throwing for just 94 yards.

Lewerke has averaged over 211 yards per game through the air though this year, and he has nine touchdowns.

Minnesota’s defensive back situation has been tested the last few weeks. Safety Antoine Winfield Jr. went out with an injury against Maryland, and the team announced Monday that he is out again against Michigan State, missing his second consecutive game.

Minnesota’s cornerbacks have been dealt an injury blow too, with Zo Craighton going down earlier in the season and Kiondre Thomas leaving the game against Purdue with an injury.

Matchup to watch:

S Jacob Huff vs. WR Felton Davis

Advantage: Michigan State

Prediction:

Michigan State 31, Minnesota 7.

Michigan State’s top defense handled a top offense in Michigan last week. Minnesota’s offense has yet to hit a hot streak against a conference opponent.

Daily prediction record this season: 4-1

What else you need to know:

Start time: 7 p.m. CT Saturday, Oct. 14

TV: Big Ten Network

Radio: KFAN 100.3 FM

Point spread: Michigan State by 5

Minnesota depth chart

Michigan State depth chart