Michigan State is in wounded-animal mode. The secondary was exposed against Washington in a 39-28 loss. Mel Tucker’s squad is in need of a bounce-back win. Minnesota stands in the way of that happening on Saturday.
The Golden Gophers are coached by P.J. Fleck. Fleck is 0-3 all time as a head coach against Michigan State. The most recent meeting between these two programs came in 2017 when Michigan State won 30-27 in Minneapolis.
As for this season, the Gophers are 3-0 after beating New Mexico State, Western Illinois and Colorado by a combined score of 149 to 17.
The Gophers are favored by 2.5 points according to DraftKings Sportsbook. The Spartans have now been underdogs in their previous two games. Here are the keys to victory for Michigan State.
Slow down the Minnesota run game
Through three games, Minnesota has been one of the best in the country at running the football. Minnesota has averaged 312.7 rushing yards per game, which is second in FBS only to Air Force. There is no doubt that the rushing attack is the bread and butter of the Minnesota offense.
The Gophers have completely outmatched their opponents along the line of scrimmage this season. Minnesota has been able to simply run it down opposing defenses’ throats with star running back Mohamed Ibrahim. Michigan State needs to punch Minnesota right back in the mouth at the line of scrimmage. Physicality in the trenches will be huge for the Spartans’ defensive front.
The more that the Spartans can limit running lanes, the more success MSU will have. Ibrahim will get a majority of the touches for Minnesota, and he is extremely hard to bring down at first contact. It’s next to impossible to stop this Minnesota run game, but the key is to limit it. Quarterback Tanner Morgan is efficient, but isn’t a world-beater. Minnesota has relatively unproven wide receivers — especially with leading re as well, so forcing Morgan to pass is critical.
Win the battles on the outside
The Gophers have a solid overall defense, but Minnesota’s strength on the defensive side lies in the secondary. Michigan State will want to establish the run. If the run game is well covered by the Minnesota front seven, expect Michigan State to go to the air game sooner in the game than it did against Washington.
Wide receivers Keon Coleman and Jayden Reed, if healthy, will be two key players in this game. They will likely match up with Terell Smith, Justin Walley or Ryan Stapp in that Gopher secondary. The pass game needs to continue finding success. That falls on the Spartan receivers and Payton Thorne at quarterback. Also, the tight ends could provide some mismatches. Daniel Barker can win 50-50 balls against just about any defense in the country. Michigan State needs to capitalize on that.
Get Jalen Berger and Jarek Broussard rolling
The rushing offense against Washington was putrid. Michigan State had 42 rushing yards on 29 carries. The offensive line struggled to generate any kind of push. The Spartans won’t be able to win many games playing a one-dimensional offense. However, there is a fine line between trying to establish the run and knowing when to switch to plays that will be successful.
For example, if Berger and Broussard can’t get going on the ground, but the pass game is finding success, give up trying to establish the run game, and start running plays that will move the football.
The simple solution to this problem, if it bleeds into this game, is to get the run game rolling. That falls on the offensive line as well. Minnesota is a physical team. The Spartan offensive line will need to match that. The rushing attack is in desperate need of a rebound game, and this is a perfect opportunity for it to happen.