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Get To Know The Opponent: Minnesota

NCAA Football: Outback Bowl-Minnesota vs Auburn Douglas DeFelice-USA TODAY Sports

The Michigan State Spartans look to rebound after a disappointing road loss to the Washington Huskies. MSU will return to Spartan Stadium to take on the Minnesota Golden Gophers at 3:30 p.m. Eastern Time on Saturday (Big Ten Network).

School: The University of Minnesota

Nickname: Golden Gophers

Location: Minneapolis, Minnesota

Head Coach: P.J. Fleck (sixth season at Minnesota, 38-23 record, 68-45 overall record as a head coach)

Series History: The Spartans and Golden Gophers have met 47 times with Michigan State having the 30-17 advantage. The Spartans are currently on a five-game winning streak against the Gophers, with the last victory coming in 2017.

Minnesota come to East Lansing to kick off Big Ten play, hoisting a perfect 3-0 record. The Gophers faced less than stellar competition in their non-conference slate and dominated each and every game to the tune of a combined score of 149-17 in those three games against New Mexico State, Western Illinois and Colorado.

The Gophers performed so well, they have four players that are the highest graded at their respective positions (per Pro Football Focus). Meanwhile, the Spartans will be seeking a bounce-back victory and will need a valiant effort on both sides of the ball to come away with a much-needed win on Saturday.

Players/Postions/Schemes to watch

Offensive Line/RPO game:

There’s no secret that the Minnesota offense plays through its vaunted offensive line. The Gophers have averaged 312.7 rushing yards per game and have scored a total of 16 rushing touchdowns. The Gophers are predominantly a zone running team, which starts the team’s offensive attack.

The Gophers run an inside zone running concept with a “play-side” glance route (highlighted in blue below) from the left slot as the focus on this run-pass option (RPO). On an RPO, the offensive line run blocks (without initially going too far downfield), while the quarterback reads second and sometimes third level defenders while deciphering whether he should pull the football from the running back’s belly, and deliver a strike into a voided area, or hand the ball off to the back.

The Gophers show run in the play clip above, which forces the second level linebackers to respect the run, and opens a void in the middle of the field for the “glance” route to become open. The Colorado defense is in a base cover-3 look here, and Minnesota quarterback Tanner Morgan reads it all the way. Morgan, a sixth-year senior, makes a great read as the mike linebacker in the middle of the field crashes down to help in run support, which leaves the curl flat defender in the left slot one on one with wide receiver Chris Autman-Bell. The “curl flat defender” in the slot has no choice but to let Autman-Bell get inside leverage as his defensive responsibility is to read flat first then react to anything crossing his face. The slot defender is too late reacting to Autman-Bell’s glance route and allows a 15-yard gain on first down.

This is a play that the Gophers will run quite a few times Saturday, forcing the Spartans defense to decide on defending the pass or the run. Here is what it looks like drawn up:

Terell Smith

The Gophers have only allowed 17 points in three games to start the 2022 campaign, and the secondary has much to do with that, led by senior cornerback Terell Smith. Per Pro Football Focus, Smith is the highest-graded cornerback in college football so far this season and is the highest-graded cornerback in man coverage as well. Smith possesses fluid hip movement and tremendous ball skills, which is a must have when becoming a dominant defender in man coverage. Smith has recorded one interception so far this season and it was a beauty.

Smith is in press coverage here, with no safety help. Smith not only must defend the go route, but also has to be alert for an in-breaking route that crosses his face. Smith traces the New Mexico State wide receiver from the snap, opens up to run with him and once Smith reads the eyes of the receiver, he flips his hips effortlessly and dominates the receiver for the ball, coming away with his first interception of the season. Expect Smith and star wideouts for the Spartans, Jayden Reed (if healthy) and Keon Coleman, to have a few one-on-one battles this Saturday, which could ultimately decide who wins the contest in East Lansing.


Expect the Spartans and Gophers to be within one score throughout the game. In a game where both teams would like to establish a running game, possessions are at a premium and turnovers are killers. The team that capitalizes on the others turnovers will come away with this one.