The Minnesota Golden Gophers made quite a statement in East Lansing on Saturday, dominating the Michigan State Spartans from start to finish in a 34-7 rout.
Against a vulnerable Spartans secondary but without his leading receiver Chris Autman-Bell, Gopher quarterback Tanner Morgan was elite, going 23-of-26 for 268 passing yards and three touchdowns. Amid questions about how Minnesota would replace Autman-Bell’s production, Morgan completed passes to 10 different players in the game.
Morgan led a 10-play, 75-yard scoring drive on the Gophers’ opening possession of the game, connecting with four different receivers for four completions of 10+ yards. Mohamed Ibrahim punched it in from two yards out, giving Minnesota a 7-0 lead and setting a new program record for career rushing touchdowns (41), breaking Darrell Thompson’s previous record.
After the Gophers’ defense forced a three-and-out on the Spartans’ opening drive, Morgan went back to work on offense, capping a nine-play, 77-yard scoring drive with a 23-yard touchdown pass to Daniel Jackson. Trailing 14-0 in the first quarter, Michigan State was unable to respond on their next drive, as Minnesota defensive coordinator Joe Rossi dialed up a corner blitz on third down and Ryan Stapp sacked quarterback Payton Thorne to force a punt.
The second quarter was more of a struggle for Minnesota. They drove back into the red zone on their third offensive possession but the drive stalled at the Michigan State 8-yard line, forcing them to settle for a 26-yard Matthew Trickett field goal and a 17-0 lead. The Spartans made strides on their next drive, recording their first first down of the game and crossing into Minnesota territory for the first time. But the drive ended when Justin Walley intercepted Thorne on fourth down.
The Gophers seemed poised to extend their lead after the turnover, but Michigan State defensive end Jacoby Windman punched the ball out of Ibrahim’s hands at the Spartans’ 26-yard line for a fumble that Michigan State then recovered. Fortunately, the Spartans weren’t able to convert that turnover into points. With two minutes left in the half after a Michigan State punt, penalties prevented the Gophers from adding to their lead on their final possession before halftime.
The Spartans came out of the locker room firing, driving down to the red zone on their opening possession. But Thomas Rush punched the ball out of Thorne’s hands near the goal line and Walley recovered the fumble. It was a demoralizing turnover for Michigan State, made worse by the 12-play, 90-yard scoring drive that followed. Morgan capped that drive with a six-yard touchdown pass to tight end Nick Kallerup, the first of his career, to make it 24-0.
On the next drive, rush end Danny Striggow batted a Payton Thorne pass at the line of scrimmage and then held on to it for a back-breaking interception. Daniel Jackson hauled in his second touchdown pass of the game on the ensuing drive, extending the Gophers’ lead to 31-0. Matthew Trickett would tack on a 22-yard field goal in the fourth quarter to make it 34-0.
The Spartans broke up the shutout against Minnesota’s second-team defense in the final seconds of the game, but up until that point they’d been completely dominated by the first-team defense. Michigan State finished the game with only 38 total rushing yards, Thorne was 17-of-24 for 132 passing yards and two interceptions, and the Spartans were 2-for-8 on third downs.