Baker becomes the next to run all over Gophers

John Hageman

When a reporter asked Edwin Baker if he should be referred to as Walter Payton after his performance against the Gophers on Saturday, it wasnâÄôt a totally outlandish proposition. The sophomore running back ran through, around and over the Gophers for 179 yards and four touchdowns, three of them coming in the first half. âÄúHe was just tremendous today,âÄù Spartans offensive coordinator Don Treadwell said. âÄúSo if youâÄôre going to get a guy thatâÄôs hot like that, then youâÄôre going to continue to feed him âĦ he energizes your team.âÄù Baker scored the first two touchdowns of the game to give the Spartans an early 14-0 lead, gaining all of the teamsâÄô 41 yards on their second scoring drive of the game. But it was BakerâÄôs third touchdown that broke MinnesotaâÄôs back. Facing fourth down just inches away from MinnesotaâÄôs goal line on what would be the last play of the first half, the Spartans decided to forego the sure three points and trusted Baker to get into the end zone. And like every other time he was called on Saturday, Baker didnâÄôt disappoint. âÄúI canâÄôt say exactly what [Michigan State head coach Mark Dantonio] said, but he said, âÄòGet the ball in the end zone,âÄô âÄù Baker said. âÄúThat was a huge momentum change for us.âÄù That touchdown, which Dantonio called âÄúcritical,âÄù gave the Spartans a seemingly insurmountable lead. But Minnesota interim head coach Jeff Horton was confident that the team could rally from the deficit. âÄúWhen youâÄôre down at halftime a little bit, they got the momentum with the touchdown, itâÄôs easy to come back out the last 30 minutes and just go through the motions, but I thought our kids really busted their tails out there,âÄù Horton said. Baker responded to the GophersâÄô first and only touchdown of the day in the fourth quarter with one of his own on the ensuing drive, further sealing the victory for Michigan State. While his numbers Saturday were impressive, BakerâÄôs 6.6 yards per carry was almost identical to his season average. Over the past three games, however, Baker averaged just 39 yards on the ground. But against a Minnesota defense that has given up a Big-Ten worst 201.8 yards per game on the ground âÄî Indiana is second-worst against the run with 167.5 given up per game âÄî Baker flourished from start to finish. Part of a dual-threat backfield, Baker has shared time with freshman LeâÄôVeon Bell this year. Coming into Saturday, Bell had 586 yards and eight touchdowns to BakerâÄôs 800 yards and seven touchdowns. But after exchanging some looks early in the game, it became clear that Baker had the hot hand, while Bell didnâÄôt even finish the game with positive yardage on six carries. But on the Minnesota side, it appeared that no one had even a lukewarm hand. MarQueis Gray and DeLeon Eskridge led the Gophers in rushing with 31 yards each, with GrayâÄôs coming on five quarterback keepers and EskridgeâÄôs slowly accumulating on 17 carries. For almost every game this season, the Gophers have witnessed their opponent achieve in the running game what they hoped to do, only to have their effectiveness pale in comparison. Too often this season, the Gophers have fallen behind early and were forced to go the air, but the 2.5 yards per carry the Gophers averaged Saturday were indicative of how much they have struggled to establish the run. For Horton, the SpartansâÄô success was simple. âÄúGood player, good offensive line, thatâÄôs what they do, man,âÄù Horton said. âÄúThey run the ball, and they ran it well.âÄù