Michigan State is in new, yet familiar territory, once again being ranked in the AP Top-25. The No. 21 Spartans (4-1, 2-0 BigTen) hit the road this Saturday to face Minnesota (3-2, 0-2 BigTen) and the Golden Gophers will be hunting for their first BigTen win of the 2017 season, after losing at home to Maryland 31-24 two weeks ago and at Purdue 31-17 last weekend. The Spartans are favored, and going off both teams last two weeks of play, they should be, but this will not be an easy game for either team as MSU has the 4th-ranked defense in college football and Minnesota counters with the 22nd-ranked defense. With that said, here are three things Michigan State needs to do to ensure a victory on Saturday.
No Michigan Hangover
The “joke” is that the Michigan game is MSU's “Super Bowl,” and that no other game is nearly as important. While that might be true for some fans, the players and coaches cannot think or play that way. At the Big House, the defense was swarming and taking advantage when the opportunity presented itself. The offense was crafty at times and did not hurt themselves with turnovers. Last week meant a lot to Michigan State, this week needs to mean a lot too. If the players play similar to how they played last week, and Mark Dantonio and Dave Warner dial it up, a la that first half last week, it will be a good day for MSU.
Defense continues to impress
Last week the Spartan defense was gashed on Michigan's opening drive, allowing 39 yards on the ground while the Wolverines marched for an opening-score field goal. For the final 53:04 of the game, they allowed only 63 yards rushing. Yes, weather played a factor in the second half, but Michigan State's defense proved every bit as impressive as Michigan's top-ranked defense. In the four wins this season, the Spartan defense has given up just two touchdowns, and one was gift-wrapped by the offense giving Michigan the ball on the MSU 33-yard-line. Minnesota's best offensive weapon is their run-game, where they have a two-headed attack in Rodney Smith (398 yards on 108 carries and two touchdowns) and Shannon Brooks (315 yards on 65 carries and five touchdowns). Quarterback Conor Rhoda is feasible but not explosive in any way, completing just 55% of his passes with five touchdowns and four interceptions on the year. If the defense continues to play like the 4th-best defense in the nation, Michigan State should walk out of Minnesota with their fifth win of the season.
Running the ball actually works
Last week was not a night for offenses as both Michigan and Michigan State tout two of the stingiest defenses in college football. But amongst the crazy weather and crazy good defenses, the Spartan run game actually worked at times. They totaled 158 yards on the ground, with 61 coming from quarterback Brian Lewerke, and 59 coming from Madre London. LJ Scott did not play in the game, and Gerald Holmes, who played on an injured ankle, had the most carries for a running back with 11, only gaining 27 yards. The Spartans have yet to have a dominant running game this year, and with Minnesota's defense being rather stingy themselves against the run, I doubt it happens this Saturday. But if Michigan State can get groups of solid runs from Holmes, London and Scott (if he plays), it will make Lewerke's life easier by mixing in play-action passes, as well as runs of his own, to keep the Spartan offense on the field, and that Golden Gopher rushing attack on the sidelines.
Prediction: Michigan State 24, Minnesota 13.