The 21st-ranked Michigan State Spartans (5-1, 3-0 BigTen) continued their successful trip away from East Lansing, escaping with a 30-27 victory over Minnesota (3-3, 0-3 BigTen). The defense was superb at times, yet undisciplined in the fourth quarter, the offense was moving the ball up the field, and MSU is showing more and more that last season's 3-9 campaign was a fluke. Coming off a 14-10 upset over then-No. 7 Michigan, it was easy for the Spartans to have a letdown against the Golden Gophers. But Mark Dantonio kept the team focused on Minnesota, and it showed on the field, as the Spartans took a halftime lead of 17-6, stretched it to 23-6 in the third, before Minnesota finally showed a lot of fight in the final period. The Gophers made it 23-13, but MSU answered 30-13, and Minnesota came back again 30-20 before a failed onsides-kick gave Michigan State the ball just past mid-field with five-and-change to play. The Spartans moved the ball to start the drive, but it stalled and MSU missed the field goal to give the Gophers hope. Minnesota's back-up quarterback Demry Croft made plays with his feet and his arm, found holes in the Michigan State secondary and connected for his third touchdown of the fourth quarter to make it a 3-point game. MSU recovered the onsides-kick with just over a minute to play to run the clock out and win the game. Here are three takeaways from the win in Minneapolis.
LJ Scott is becoming “The Guy”
The 2017 campaign for running back LJ Scott has been complicated. While the Spartans tout a three-headed monster in Scott, Gerald Holmes, and Madre London, Scott was hailed as “the guy” before the season started. But fumble issues plagued him early, he even got bit again against the Gophers, and he had yet to rush for over 100 yards in a game this year. But tonight the fumble can be somewhat forgiven when he's busy gashing the 22nd-ranked Minnesota defense for 194 yards rushing at over seven-yards-per-carry and two touchdowns. Here's the second score.
.@MSU_Football's LJ Scott is having himself an evening.
Career high in rushing. ✔️
Two touchdowns. ✔️ pic.twitter.com/vJTIfRAOBT
— Michigan State on BTN (@MichiganStOnBTN) October 15, 2017
He also hauled in 26-yard catch-and-run, giving him 220 yards on the night, and joined some select company.
— Michigan State Football (@MSU_Football) October 15, 2017
LJ Scott has shown next-level ability, and if something clicked for Scott and he starts producing over 100 yards per game the rest of the way, Michigan State will be an even bigger threat in the BigTen.
Learning how to finish
Michigan State had leads of 17-6 at halftime, 23-6 in the 3rd quarter, and 30-13 in the 4th quarter, but this game still came down to recovering an onsides-kick with just over a minute to play. Last week's win at Michigan came down to defending a Hail-Mary-pass as time expired. In both games, the Spartans had an opportunity to either run the clock out, or put the game out of reach, and in both instances, they failed to do so. Last week it was a holding penalty bringing back a clock-killing offensive play that could have sealed the win, and this week the Spartans, after recovering an onsides-kick holding a 30-20 lead, started well with Scott getting big chunks of yards, but the drive stalled just outside the red zone thanks to a holding penalty and MSU had to settle for a field goal try. The drive began with just over five minutes to play, ended with just over three minutes to play and Michigan State walked away with nothing after Matt Coughlin missed from 45 yards out.
Mobile quarterbacks are Spartans' Kryptonite
For three quarters of this football game, the Michigan State defense was dominant, absolutely dominant. They held Minnesota's rushing attack to a combined effort of 74 yards all night, holding lead running back Rodney Smith to just 44 yards in the game. They racked up a couple sacks, recovered a fumble, added another interception, and held the Golden Gophers to just six points through three quarters. So what the hell happened? Back-up quarterback Demry Croft happened.
Demry Croft okey-dokes a db who thought he was running out of bounds pic.twitter.com/5TywoNoE3L
— Vikings Blogger (@firstandskol) October 15, 2017
Starting quarterback Connor Rhoda was a paltry 5-for-12 for 53 yards, and sacked twice for minus-10 yards. Croft was 11-for-20 for 163 yards, 3 touchdowns, and 1 interception, while gaining 31 yards with his legs on seven rushes. Croft connected on passing plays of 21 and 17 yards on the Gophers second touchdown, and hit plays of 22, 20, and another 22 yards before connecting from nine yards out for his third touchdown with wide receiver Tyler Johnson (8 catches, 106 yards, and 3 touchdowns). Almost every single one of those big plays happened with Croft escaping the pocket. When the Spartans contained the pocket, they held Minnesota to pathetic numbers offensively, but when Croft escaped, he turned a blowout into a ballgame.
The bottom line for this game is that Michigan State walked away victorious, but you can bet Mark Dantonio has plenty of 4th-quarter footage to go over with his defense. A win's a win, and MSU is 5-1 on the year and one win away from being bowl-eligible as they prepare for the Indiana Hoosiers next Saturday at Spartan Stadium.