Spartans walk all over U football

Jeff Sherry

Assorted players, media members and coaches took turns Saturday trying to describe the magnitude of the Gophers Homecoming game against Michigan State.
A number of catch phrases were used, which is good, because they all might be needed to describe how big Minnesota’s 27-9 loss could be.
So here goes:
ù With the Gophers entering the game 3-2 overall, 0-2 in the Big Ten, Saturday represented the crossroads of the team’s season.
ù With consecutive games looming against Michigan, at Ohio State and at Wisconsin, Saturday was a critical contest for the Gophers.
ù With the team needing five wins this year to save Coach Jim Wacker’s job, Saturday was a pivotal point in Minnesota’s schedule.
But regardless of how the game was billed, Saturday was an all-around letdown for Minnesota. A weekend of fun, concerts and parade floats quickly sunk into oblivion as the Spartans took control in the second quarter and ran all over the Gophers.
And now, in a span of three weeks, Minnesota has gone from unbeaten to 3-3 — including an 0-3 record in the Big Ten. A team with an overload of confidence is suddenly searching for reasons to be optimistic.
“We just have to stay focused,” defensive tackle and team co-captain Jerome Davis said. “We’re at the point now where we can let things go downhill or come together and do the things we need to be successful.”
The Gophers will need to regroup on both sides of the ball. Minnesota controlled the ball (118 yards to 22 yards) and the clock (11:27 to 3:33) in the first quarter, but Michigan State took charge from there. The Spartans built up a 27-3 lead by the end of the third quarter, and thoughts of another late comeback were out of reach.
Minnesota’s only points from those first three quarters came on its opening drive. The team looked calm and precise as it moved the length of the field, but the offense sputtered with first-and-goal on the Spartans 4-yard line. Minnesota had to settle for an Adam Bailey 22-yard field goal.
After being forced to punt on its first two possessions, Michigan State started moving the ball easily. The Spartans scored twice, then took advantage of an interception late in the half by Gophers quarterback Cory Sauter to grab a 13-3 halftime lead.
“(The interception) was critical,” said Wacker, who for the second straight week was very emotional after the game. “Nobody wants that play back more than Cory. He’s had better days.”
Michigan State received the ball to open the second half and quickly delivered the game’s crucial blow. Spartans quarterback Todd Schultz hit Octavis Long at their own 45-yard line, Long curled into the middle of the field and ran untouched for a 64-yard touchdown.
“That long touchdown pass might’ve took some wind out of us,” sophomore linebacker Parc Williams said. “We just went downhill after that. They started running it down our throats and we couldn’t stop them.”
The remainder of the game belonged to the Michigan State’s rushing game, particularly freshman tailback Sedrick Irvin. The Spartans continually ran up the middle and ran time off the clock. They passed on only 16 of their 72 plays throughout, and Irvin ended up with 154 yards.
The Gophers offense managed to get going again for a couple drives in the fourth quarter, but it was far too late. Minnesota’s first decisive loss of the season was already sealed.
“Coach Wacker tells us every game is a big game,” said split end Ryan Thelwell, who became Minnesota’s all-time receiving yardage leader Saturday when he caught for 101 yards. “But as far as I saw it, this was the biggest game of the season. It’s Homecoming, we had a chance to go 4-2 and turn the corner, but we just didn’t get it done.”
And now every game becomes the Gophers’ most important game of the season.

GAME SUMMARY
Michigan State 0 13 14 0 — 27
Minnesota 3 0 0 6 — 9

First Quarter:
Minn — FG Bailey 22, 10:49
Second Quarter:
MSU — FG Gardner 37, 9:29
MSU — Goulbourne 2 run (Gardner kick) 5:11
MSU — FG Gardner 25, :32
Third Quarter:
MSU — Long 64 pass from Schultz (Gardner kick) 12:46
MSU — Irvin 4 run (Gardner kick) 8:31
Fourth Quarter:
Minn — Thelwell 8 pass from Sauter (pass failed) 12:19
A — 45,434
T — 2:40.

TEAM STATISTICS
First Downs: MSU 21, Minn 15. Rushing Yards: MSU 243, Minn 91. Passing Yards: MSU 180, Minn 189. Total Yards: MSU 423, Minn 280. Fumbles Lost: MSU 0, Minn 0. Possession Time: MSU 33:07, Minn 26:53.

INDIVIDUAL STATISTICS
RUSHING — Michigan State, Irvin 32-159, Goulbourne 18-83, Crenshaw 5-13, Schultz 1-(-7). Minnesota, Hamner 18-77, Evans 3-16, Jackson 3-10, Wynn III 1-0, Sauter 6-(-12).
PASSING — Michigan State, Schultz 10-16-0 180. Minnesota, Sauter 16-29-1 189.
RECEIVING — Michigan State, Mason 6-106, Irvin 1-(-2), Keur 1-7, Rance 1-5, Long 1-64. Minnesota, Thelwell 7-101, Atwell 4-40, Nelson 3-36, Kratochvil 1-5, Hutton 1-7.