Minnesota hits the road, will do battle with stingy Mich. St. defense

The Spartans are one of the best defensive teams in the nation.

Minnesota hits the road, will do battle with stingy Mich. St. defense

Mark Vancleave, File Photo

Samuel Gordon

Minnesota (2-6) enjoyed its win over Iowa for exactly one day before beginning preparations for No. 16 Michigan State (6-2), according to head coach Jerry Kill.

âÄúWeâÄôre going to play a great, great football team, a tremendous defensive football team,âÄù Kill said. âÄúVery, very, very athletic, and we have our work cut out for us.âÄù

The SpartansâÄô defense yields just 15.0 points per game this season, seventh in the nation. Michigan StateâÄôs opponents average only 228.8 yards of total offense per game. Only Alabama allows fewer yards a contest.

In four Big Ten games, the Spartans have recorded 36 tackles for loss and a conference-best 19 sacks.

âÄúIâÄôm not sure how many NFL guys are on there, but thereâÄôs a lot of them,âÄù Kill said. âÄúWeâÄôre playing against the best defensive tackle [Jerel Worthy] IâÄôve seen in a long time. ItâÄôs a big challenge for us.âÄù

Worthy is the straw that stirs the drink. The junior has been nothing short of dominant this season. ESPN.com named him a mid-season All-American and NFL analysts have pegged Worthy as a first-round pick in AprilâÄôs NFL draft.

The Spartans possess one of the premier safety tandems in the conference as well. Sophomore Isaiah Lewis leads the conference in interceptions, and senior Trenton Robinson, an All-Big Ten selection a year ago, is an NFL prospect too.

âÄúWe just have to go out there and execute the game plan,âÄù offensive lineman Ed Olson said. âÄúTheyâÄôre a good defense. Every good team in the Big Ten is a good defense.âÄù

Offensively, Michigan State is led by quarterback Kirk Cousins. The fifth-year senior is third in the Big Ten in passing yards and fourth in passing touchdowns.

âÄúHeâÄôs a very good quarterback âĦ WeâÄôll try to maybe give him some disguises and what not,âÄù Gophers cornerback Kyle Henderson said. âÄúWeâÄôll try to attack him a little bit âĦ WeâÄôll be ready for him on Saturday hopefully.âÄù

CousinsâÄô favorite target is senior B.J. Cunningham. The 6-foot-2 wide receiver has recorded four 100-yard games this year and is third in the conference with 723 receiving yards.

âÄúTheyâÄôre explosive âĦ They have some good receivers,âÄù Henderson said. âÄúReally, weâÄôre just going to try to make sure we eliminate huge plays, try to stay home in our coverage and try to stay disciplined.âÄù

The Spartans are coming off a blowout loss against Nebraska, but Kill said he expects Michigan State to be on top of its game this weekend.

âÄúThey had a game at Nebraska kind of like weâÄôve had a couple of âÄî just nothing went right,âÄù he said. âÄúItâÄôs not a good time to play them, I can tell you that. TheyâÄôll be ready on Saturday.âÄù

However, Spartans coach Mark Dantonio said he expects a similar effort from the Gophers this week as well.

âÄú[Minnesota is] getting better. TheyâÄôre going to play extremely hard,âÄù Dantonio said in his weekly press conference. âÄúIf you look at their sideline, itâÄôs emotional, and theyâÄôre going to bring that excitement with them when they come here. So itâÄôll be important that we recognize that fact and play to the most of our abilities.âÄù

Dantonio also said Michigan State has been planning to stop the Minnesota running game, which is led by quarterback MarQueis Gray.

âÄúThereâÄôs a lot of designated quarterback runs, and then thereâÄôs also times where he just breaks the pocket and makes it happen,âÄù he said.

âÄúHeâÄôs a guy that thereâÄôs no question, we have to be able to control him if weâÄôre going to win this football game.âÄù

GrayâÄôs efficiency was vital in the victory over Iowa. The junior completed a season-high 64.7 percent of his throws and didnâÄôt turn the ball over.

Kill credited his quarterbackâÄôs performance to an increased sense of confidence and said he hopes to see that more in the future.

âÄúConfidence is a big key in anybodyâÄôs life or whatever. If you start feeling you can do something, you kind of getting better, and he just got more confidence as the game went on,âÄù Kill said.

âÄúHopefully heâÄôll continue to take that, and he had some guys do some things up front, gave him a chance, and it all starts up there.âÄù