Gophers show improvement in loss to MSU

Minnesota took a close 31-24 loss in East Lansing.

Michigan State wide receiver B.J. Cunningham attempts to catch the ball for a touchdown under the pressure of Gophers defensive back Johnny Johnson Saturday at the Spartan Stadium.

Anthony Kwan

Michigan State wide receiver B.J. Cunningham attempts to catch the ball for a touchdown under the pressure of Gophers defensive back Johnny Johnson Saturday at the Spartan Stadium.

Adam Richard

Minnesota fought hard in East Lansing, but came up short against Michigan State, losing 31-24.

Quarterback MarQueis Gray had a career day against the SpartansâÄô defense. He threw for 295 yards, three touchdowns and two interceptions. The yardage was a career high, as were his 19 completions.  

âÄúI would like a win, but other than that it was a nice game. The win wouldâÄôve felt better,âÄù Gray said.

Senior wide receiver DaâÄôJon McKnight had a career day as well, with nine receptions for 173 yards and three touchdowns. The yardage was a career-high, and the receptions and touchdowns tied his career-highs.

The Gophers had a chance to tie the game with 2:22 remaining. Gray and the offense took over the ball on MinnesotaâÄôs own 10-yard line. After driving down the field, Gray was intercepted for the second time by Trenton Robinson, which sealed the Spartan victory. 

The last time the Gophers played in the state of Michigan, they were blown out 58-0 in Ann Arbor. SaturdayâÄôs game in East Lansing featured a different Minnesota team.

âÄúI think weâÄôve made quite a bit [of progress],âÄù head coach Jerry Kill said. âÄúI do think we are getting better. We found a way to win last week. I wish we wouldâÄôve found a way to win today.âÄù 

He said he felt confident until the last play Minnesota could tie the score and send it to overtime.

The GophersâÄô defense had a big turnover early that changed the momentum of the game, but was unable to hold off the SpartansâÄô passing attack over the course of the day. 

SpartansâÄô senior quarterback Kirk Cousins finished the game with 296 yards passing and two touchdowns. 

The GophersâÄô offensive line double-teamed the SpartansâÄô All-American defensive tackle Jerel Worthy most of the day, which allowed Gray time in the pocket.

Worthy plugged up the middle of the field, holding Minnesota running backs to only 45 yards rushing, but Gray was able to exploit the defense through the air. 

The game started with a flurry of scores. None of the first four scoring drives lasted longer than two minutes.

The only break in the first half tempo was when Minnesota used an eight-minute drive and some MSU penalties to bend the SpartansâÄô touted defense and score a field goal to take a 17-14 lead.

At the start of the game, Gray hit McKnight for a 64-yard touchdown four minutes into the first quarter. McKnight broke three tackles on the 55-yard scamper after his catch.

Minnesota had not scored first in any of its Big Ten games, but did so Saturday.

MSU quickly struck back with a 69-yard bomb from Cousins to B.J. Cunningham that put the Spartans inside the 10-yard line, and Cousins followed that up with a 4-yard touchdown pass to tie the game at 7-7.

Cunningham was held without a catch in his previous game Oct. 29 against Nebraska. The Spartans were only able to put up 3 points in that game. He rebounded Saturday with 104 yards receiving against Minnesota.

The first half ended with a 51-second, 74-yard touchdown drive that gave MSU a 21-17 lead.

The GophersâÄô offense broke through in the second half when Gray threw his third touchdown pass to McKnight halfway through the quarter to take a 24-21 lead.

âÄúI think I got open because of the threat of MarQueis Gray. The defense focused on him and I got behind the defense,âÄù McKnight said.

Minnesota played strong defense in the second half, but came up short in the fourth quarter. Each series, they bent but were able to keep from breaking. 

Minnesota stopped MSU on a second-half series, but extended the drive with a 15-yard roughing the kicker penalty. The GophersâÄô defense stood strong again though and forced MSU to punt after a 12-yard sack by Gary Tinsley. 

âÄúThe defense did a great job today. We came out ready from the start. Everybody was focused before the game. We swarmed to the ball,âÄù Tinsley said. 

MinnesotaâÄôs defense even stopped MSU on a short field after a turnover, and the Spartans had to settle for a field goal to tie the game at 24.

The GophersâÄô defense made many stops on the afternoon, but allowed sporadic large gains throughout the game. 

Gray had looked sharp all day, but threw an interception late in the third quarter that let MSU gain some momentum and changed the course of the game.

Spartan running back LeâÄôVeon Bell scored the go-ahead touchdown on a 35-yard power run with 10:58 left in the game.

The SpartansâÄô second-ranked defense was able to dig in its heels and make a stand against Minnesota in the fourth quarter, where they held Minnesota scoreless.

The Spartans now have a 14-game home winning streak and havenâÄôt lost at Spartan Stadium since 2009.