The Minnesota Golden Gophers (4-3) return home to face the reeling Michigan State Spartans (2-5) on Saturday at 2:30 p.m. CT at Huntington Bank Stadium.
Can Michigan State score on offense?
This is yet another anemic Big Ten offense. Michigan State ranks 115th nationally in rushing offense (108.7 rushing yards per game), 81st in passing offense (217.6 passing yards per game), and 118th in scoring offense (18.9 points per game).
Junior quarterback Connor Kim started the first five games of the season before the Spartans opted to bench him in favor of redshirt freshman signal caller Katin Houser. Turnovers were an issue for Kim, who threw six interceptions in his last three starts combined. Houser was decent in his first career start, completing 62.1 percent of his passes and throwing for 133 passing yards and two touchdowns. But the play-calling consisted largely of high-percentage passes and he made more than a few questionable throws that should have been intercepted.
Drops have also been an issue for Michigan State in the passing game. Senior Montorie Foster Jr. is their leading receiver but he only has 25 receptions for 287 receiving yards and a touchdown. Fifth-year senior Tre Mosley isn’t far behind with 25 receptions for 237 receiving yards and two touchdowns. The Spartans have seven pass catchers with double-digit receptions this season and offensive coordinator Jay Johnson seems insistent on airing the ball out.
Running back Nathan Carter recorded 130 carries for 565 rushing yards and four touchdowns, but three of those touchdowns came against Richmond and he has not found the end zone in any of Michigan State’s last five games. He was also limited to a combined 88 rushing yards and 2.4 yards per carry over their last two games against Rutgers and Michigan.
Please tell me the Gophers will be able to score
Defensively, the Spartans aren’t bad.
Up front, Michigan State will be without starting defensive tackle Simeon Barrow Jr., who is reportedly set to enter the transfer portal. Barrow was responsible for 19 total tackles, 2.5 tackles for loss, and 1.5 sacks through the Spartans’ first seven games. The defense has been solid against the run this season, ranking 31st nationally in rushing defense and allowing 115.6 rushing yards per game. Redshirt sophomore Cal Haladay has done his part, leading the team with 48 total tackles, five tackles for loss, and a sack. Mississippi State grad transfer linebacker Aaron Brule has also come on strong of late, flashing all over the field against Michigan en route to picking up 11 total tackles and two tackles for loss (albeit in a lopsided loss).
Michigan State is very young in the back end of their defense, with three sophomores and one freshman among the starters in the secondary. Defending the pass was a sore spot year in and year out under former head coach Mel Tucker and this year has been different, as the Spartans are allowing an average of 238.9 passing yards per game.
The Gophers are a bit banged up at the running back position, with Zach Evans spending the second half of the Iowa game with a boot on his leg and Darius Taylor being held out of most of the fourth quarter with an undisclosed injury. So Minnesota may not be able to rely on their running game against Michigan State. But there appears to be room to throw against this secondary if the quarterback Athan Kaliakmanis and his pass catchers can take advantage.
But who will score more points on Saturday?
I think these two teams are more alike than they are different. Both have offenses that are stuck in the mud and solid defenses that can keep them in most games. They both also got boat-raced by Michigan. But the Spartans are reeling since the firing of their head coach, having lost five straight, and the Gophers got a confidence boost with their hard-fought win over the Hawkeyes. So I’ll give the edge to Minnesota. Minnesota 18, Michigan State 10.