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Back on Track: Michigan State 31, Minnesota 8

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Earlier in the season, Patrick Vint from BHGP said (on one of his 372 podcasts, I don't remember which one) that Minnesota was basically an average-to-bad MAC team.  He said in the same skewer-the-rival fashion in which we'd say that Michigan is basically an average-to-bad basketball team, but having now watched Minnesota for an entire game, I see that he was basically right.  This is a game that we'll all remember very little of a year from now.  MSU was pretty meh, but the game's outcome was never in question.  It felt exactly like an early September game against Western Michigan or Bowling Green or any other MAC team.  The slightly-more familiar uniforms worn by the opposition and the audience shots filled with fans dressed in warm clothes were the only signs that something was askew.

I don't think there's a whole lot to be gained from this game in terms of the big picture, so bullets seem appropriate:

  • The player of the game was Edwin Baker, whose Ringer-like 27 carry, 179 yard performance certainly won the day.  He played an incredible game even in spite of largely poor offensive line play; the line is massively banged up and the bye week is desperately needed.  Larry Caper was ineffective and the early-season luster has certainly come off of Le'Veon Bell at this point.  Baker has clearly separated himself as the best of the bunch, if that wasn't already clear.
  • Kirk Cousins' throwing-off-the-back-foot nervous habit is getting worse, and his production is suffering.  I've been stifling my criticism on the point for a few weeks now, though it was particularly apparent during the Iowa game that something was wrong.  (The problem is understandable, given the number of times he's been hit this season.)  Joe Rexrode delved into the subject more deeply on Sunday; Cousins knows that it's a problem, and apprarently will use the bye week to work on his mechanics.
  • I think the defense deserves more credit than it's getting for its performance.  The pass rush was once again massively lacking, but everything else was solid: 191 yards passing by a quarterback who surpassed 400 against us last season, and only 76 yards rushing.  And the third down play was excellent: the Gophers converted only 2 of 12 opportunities.  Chris Norman didn't play (lower leg injury; apparently he'll be fine in 2 weeks), and I thought Jon Misch did an excellent job throughout the game.  Eric Gordon may have had his best game of the season.

I have little to no other insight, as MSU's wholly straightforward, trickery-free gameplan and play calling, combined with the uncompetitiveness of the game, had me sleepy and bored by the midpoint of the third quarter.  Mind you, that's a much better place to be than I've been in many other MSU games during previous Novembers.

As KJ said, the remaining two regular season games look more formidable than they did even one week ago.  The bye would have been really helpful two-ish weeks ago, but now it's here, and hopefully many of the injuries that have plagued the team down the stretch can be alleviated during the time off. 

The team's at 9-1, far better than most of us imagined even in our craziest dreams.  The Iowa game is firmly in the rear view mirror, and only two winnable games separate MSU from its first conference title in 20 years.  Finally, it's time for a breather.