Deja boo: Spartans ruin Gophers

Dan Miller

EAST LANSING, Mich. – Minnesota’s football team should petition the Big Ten for an automatic bye week following every Michigan game.

For the second-straight year, the Gophers have seen their Rose Bowl hopes completely wilt after consecutive losses to Michigan and Michigan State.

The Gophers (5-2, 2-2 Big Ten) statistically suffered their second-worst loss of the Glen Mason era in a 51-17 embarrassment Saturday in front of 72,383 at Michigan State.

Minnesota has now lost 12 straight games after playing Michigan.

More stunned than angry, Mason searched for words after the debacle.

“I don’t know where to begin,” Mason said. “The first thing that comes to my mind is that this is the worst loss we have endured in the seven years-plus since I have been here. The big question is why. I’m really not sure. I don’t have the answers and really didn’t see it coming.”

Inside a cold, rain-soaked Spartan Stadium, Michigan State (4-3, 3-1 Big Ten) dismantled the Gophers’ defense with 636 total yards – the second-highest total given up under Mason.

Minnesota’s defenders, who started the game looking as melancholy as the day, were hit early and hard by a resurgent Spartans offense. Even with three forced turnovers in the first half, the Gophers allowed Michigan State 407 total yards – a Spartan school record – and 31 points.

Michigan State sophomore quarterback Drew Stanton, despite two interceptions in the half, passed for 214 yards and two touchdowns. He also added eight rushes for 78 yards.

“For as well as we throw it, and you add an extra running back with the capabilities (Stanton) has, it makes it tough on defenders,” Michigan State coach John L. Smith said.

Stanton did a little of everything in the game. He even caught a four-yard pass, adding to his school record of 414 yards of total offense.

The Spartans scored on their first two possessions of the game. Running back Jehuu Caulcrick rushed for an 18-yard score after the Gophers deferred to the Spartans. The Gophers then found themselves in a legitimate hole after Eric Knott caught a 25-yard touchdown on the Spartan’s next drive.

Minnesota’s Justin Fraley picked Stanton on the next possession with 6:23 remaining in the first quarter, which led to a 37-yard Rhys Lloyd field goal.

But the Spartans, behind Stanton’s double threat of passing or running out of the pocket, scored 31 points before halftime and didn’t look back.

Last week, the Gophers said they were refocused and still eyeing the possibility of Pasadena, Calif. Now, they’re just searching for answers to regain their footing and salvage their Big Ten season.

The Gophers’ nationally third-ranked running game (301 yards per game) was held to just 102 yards in the game.

Minnesota running back Laurence Maroney, who had a seven-game 100-yard rushing streak snapped, led the Gophers with 54 yards on 13 carries. The Gophers’ other backfield threat, Marion Barber III, had just eight carries for 39 yards. Both runners ranked in the top 20 backs in the country coming into the game.

Minnesota quarterback Bryan Cupito was a dismal 11 for 33 with 211 yards, two touchdowns and an interception.

“We just got dominated (Saturday),” Cupito said. “We embarrassed ourselves.”

Minnesota passed up two field goal opportunities in the first half and attempted fourth-down conversions, with both failing. With 10:54 left in the first half, the Gophers initially converted a fourth-down play, but the referees ruled the Spartans called timeout before the snap.

Vowing not to repeat last year’s flat performance against Michigan State, the Gophers had said all last week they were mentally and physically prepared.

“I wasn’t concerned with the mindset,” Mason said. “I know the way they work, prepare and stay together. When you’re not getting the results, it’s hard. I’m frustrated for them.”

Minnesota’s defense, plagued by poor tackling, has now given up at least 500 yards in two straight games.

“This was the last thing I would have said could happen,” defensive tackle Mark Losli said. “I am still kind of shocked.”