Defense neutralizes Rogers, running game

Brian Stensaas

EAST LANSING, Mich. – On Michigan State’s third play from scrimmage Saturday, quarterback Jeff Smoker dropped back to pass only to have the ball wind up in the hands of Minnesota safety Justin Isom.

The Gophers’ sideline erupted in celebration. This was the defensive start the team wanted.

There was only one problem, however: the little yellow flag laying to Smokers’ left. Tackle Darrell Reid had been whistled for a late hit on the junior signal caller.

Fifteen yards, automatic first down.

On the very next play, Smoker again set to pass. This time he hit his main man, star receiver Charles Rogers, who burned Ken Williams and Eli Ward en route to a 52-yard reception.

Michigan State wound up scoring one play later on a David Richard one-yard run, but that pretty much ended the Spartans’ attack, as Minnesota went on to claim a 28-7 victory.

The celebration then resumed.

The Gophers’ defense shored up after its first series, allowing Rogers – fourth in the nation in receiving yards per game (127.5) heading into the contest – only 44 yards for the remainder.

“We watched a lot of film on Mr. Rogers, but we didn’t dedicate our whole approach to him,” said Isom, who intercepted a pass intended for Rogers in the fourth quarter and returned it 54 yards. “We were keyed in to everything out there.”

Michigan State gained only 280 offensive yards compared to Minnesota’s 537 on the afternoon.

The seven points allowed was the fewest Minnesota surrendered to a Big Ten opponent since holding Illinois to seven in 1999.

Michigan State’s 51 yards rushing were the fewest allowed by Minnesota since holding Buffalo to 49 on Sept. 21.

The trend of shutting down key receivers has been a bit of a trend in recent games. Two weeks ago against Illinois, Minnesota’s secondary limited second-team all-conference receiver Brandon Lloyd to only five catches and zero scores.

Both performances came without senior co-captain cornerback Mike Lehan, who is still out with a leg injury.

“Our defense played extremely well,” Gophers coach Glen Mason said. “We made plays and played well as a unit without a senior. We need to get Lehan back out there. He’s an inspirational leader.”

Lehan is expected back for the Nov. 2 game at Ohio State, which starts a long and trying test for Minnesota. The remainder of the season features three teams ranked in the top 25.

“It turns into a four-game season now,” said linebacker Ben West, who forced and recovered a fumble Saturday. “We just need to come out and keep playing our game, having fun and hitting people as hard as you can.”

Fake out

With time running out and the game clearly in hand, Mason opted to run a fake punt to prolong what ended up being the final drive of the game. Following the fake – which ended up being a Thomas Tapeh 28-yard run – the Gophers ran four more plays before running out the clock.

Mason defended his decision by saying he didn’t want the defense to go back onto the field.

Spartans coach Bobby Williams didn’t say specifically he was upset with the fake, but did say, “It was just like everything else. The whole game, I wasn’t happy with anything that happened.”

Abdul-Khaliq ties record

With his first quarter touchdown pass to Aaron Hosack, Minnesota quarterback Asad Abdul-Khaliq tied the school record of 10 consecutive games started with a passing touchdown.