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Minnesota Football vs. Michigan State: The Elite, The Meh & The Ugly

The Gophers made a statement in East Lansing

NCAA Football: Minnesota at Michigan State Dale Young-USA TODAY Sports

The Minnesota Golden Gophers (4-0) opened up Big Ten play with a dominant 34-7 win over the Michigan State Spartans (2-2), their first victory in East Lansing since 2006.

The Elite

Tanner Morgan. What a difference an offensive coordinator makes. Morgan is playing the best football of his career through the first four games of the season and saved his best for Saturday, completing 88.5% of his passes against Michigan State’s vulnerable secondary and throwing for 268 passing yards and three touchdowns. On the season, he is 61-of-79 (77.2%) for 886 passing yards with seven passing touchdowns and one interception.

The Gophers’ wide receiver corps. With Chris Autman-Bell lost for the season, the question being asked all week long was how Minnesota would replace his production in the passing game. It turns out it wasn’t a multiple choice question. Rather it was a, “Check all that apply,” question, as Morgan completed passes to 10 different players. Mike Brown-Stephens led the team with six receptions for 73 receiving yards, but Daniel Jackson was the standout, hauling in a pair of touchdown catches in only his second game back from injury.

Mohamed Ibrahim. He had to work harder than usual for his yards, but Ibrahim recorded his 13th consecutive game with 100+ rushing yards. Ibrahim also broke Darrell Thompson’s program record for career rushing touchdowns with his first quarter score.

The Minnesota Movers. The Gophers’ offensive line not only paved the way 240 rushing yards but they also kept Morgan clean all game long, refusing to surrender a single sack.

Nick Kallerup’s first career touchdown. Shoutout to the walk-on tight end from Wayzata recording the first touchdown catch of his career in the third quarter.

Minnesota’s pass defense. Without All-American wide receiver Jayden Reed against Washington, quarterback Payton Thorne was 30-of-42 for 323 passing yards, three touchdowns, and one interception. With Reed cleared to play against Minnesota, Thorne was 17-of-24 for 132 passing yards and two interceptions, and Reed himself was limited to four catches for 21 yards. This was the most talented receiving corps the Gophers have faced up to this point in the season and their veteran secondary was up to the challenge of containing them.

Thomas Rush’s forced fumble. Perhaps the most critical play of the game came on the Spartans’ opening drive of the second half. Michigan State came out of the locker room and marched down the field to the Minnesota 6-yard line in 11 plays. On 1st & Goal, quarterback Payton Thorne tried to run it in for a score but rush end Thomas Rush punched the ball loose and Justin Walley recovered the fumble. It was a back-breaking turnover for the Spartans, made worse by the fact that the Gophers proceeded to put together a 90-yard scoring drive.

Danny Striggow’s interception. This was my favorite defensive play of the game. Michigan State called for a screen pass to running back Jalen Berger and rush end Danny Striggow read it perfectly, not only getting a hand on the ball but also reeling it in for an interception.

The Meh

Penalties. Seven penalties is too many. Penalties killed a potential scoring drive before halftime. Mike Brown-Stephens was flagged for an illegal blindside block that backed up the Gophers to their own 12-yard line for 1st & 19. Minnesota was able to dig themselves out of that hole, but they weren’t as fortunate after Brevyn Spann-Ford was flagged for offensive pass interference. Minnesota needs to be more disciplined moving forward.

The Ugly