Minnesota travels to East Lansing

The Gophers defense will be tested by the Spartans’ upstart QB, Drew Stanton.

Ben Goessling

A month ago, this looked like one of the easiest games of the season for Minnesota football defensive coordinator Greg Hudson.

Now, it could be one of his toughest to prepare for.

And the reason for the turnaround lies almost completely with sophomore Drew Stanton.

Emerging from a three-way derby for Michigan State’s starting quarterback job, the Farmington Hills, Mich., native has the Spartans’ offense clicking as the Gophers roll into town at 11 a.m. Saturday CDT.

After opening the season with an embarrassing 19-14 loss to Rutgers, Michigan State has won three of its last five games – in large part thanks to Stanton. He was 21-of-28 passing, threw three touchdowns and caught another in the Spartans’ 38-25 win over Illinois last week.

And all of a sudden, Michigan State is just another in a long line of headaches for Hudson.

“They’ll run draws, screens, move the quarterback around, all sorts of stuff,” Hudson said. “As a defender, you’ve got a lot more ground to cover.”

In five games, Stanton has completed 61.7 percent of

his passes for 735 yards. He’s run for another 352 yards and scored four touchdowns on the ground.

“I think our football team, without a doubt, is getting into more of a comfort zone, because Drew’s been the stabilizing factor,” Michigan State coach John L. Smith said. “When he’s going to max out, I don’t know.”

Stanton’s success has come at the helm of spread attack similar to what Minnesota saw from Toledo and Northwestern.

After Michigan used the spread for 31 points in the fourth quarter last year, seemingly every team was trotting out four-receiver sets against the Gophers.

Minnesota had decent success against the attack earlier this year, holding the Rockets and Wildcats to 21 and 10 points from the line of scrimmage, respectively.

But the Wolverines used the spread on numerous occasions last weekend, often running screens for wide receiver Braylon Edwards and daring the Gophers to make open-field tackles. Minnesota missed seven tackles on the Wolverines’ game-winning drive, and there’s no reason to think Michigan State won’t use a similar game plan.

“They give you problems, they spread you out, and if you become too consumed with trying to defend all aspects of the pass, they kill you with the run,” Gophers coach Glen Mason said.

Last year, the Gophers fell into a 17-0 hole against Michigan State and wound up losing 44-38 at the Metrodome.

This time around, the Gophers said they know they can’t afford to spend the first quarter Saturday chasing Stanton around the field.

Minnesota has posted just three sacks in its last three games – thanks in large part to the quick-strike offenses it has seen – but another less-than-intense opening against the Spartans could doom the Gophers’ season once again.

“With the quick passes and the short routes, there’s not enough time to get there,” defensive tackle Mark Losli said. “But you have to keep pushing, because there’s going to be that one time where he drops back and you can get him.”