The University of Minnesota Golden Gophers came into Saturday's game against the Michigan State Spartans with a lot on the line, with a win giving the team a 7-6 record and likely a trip to the Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl on December 29 in Tempe, Arizona.
A loss would give the Gophers another losing season and a trip to the Meineke Car Care Bowl in Houston, Texas.
Seeking out a better bowl bid would be reason enough for the Gophers to take care of business on senior day at TCF Bank Stadium in Minneapolis, but the Spartans had just as much riding on Saturday's contest.
Entering the game at 5-6, Michigan State needed to pull out a win in Minnesota if they hoped to make a bowl appearance this winter.
Freshman quarterback Philip Nelson's recent struggles carried into the early moments of Saturday's game, as an interception on the opening drive of the game by senior cornerback Johnny Adams would lead to a field goal and give the Spartans an early 3-0 lead.
A three-and-out by Minnesota on the following drive gave Michigan State an opportunity to extend the lead, but a missed field goal would give Minnesota their best field position of the day.
As was the case in Nebraska last weekend, however, Minnesota continued to struggle to move the ball, gaining only two yards en route to another punt.
Momentum would quickly swing in their favor just minutes later, as junior linebacker Aaron Hill intercepted an Andrew Maxwell pass on second down and returned it 33 yards to give the Gophers a 7-3 advantage.
Michigan State took a 13-7 lead in the waning minutes of the first half after wide receiver Bennie Fowler managed to haul in a tipped pass and take it 41 yards for a touchdown.
The Spartans continued to control the run game as the second half got underway, with running backs accounting for all 49 yards gained on offense before ultimately being held to another field goal that would stretch the lead to 16-7.
On the flip side, the Gophers' running game continued to struggle as they went on the offensive. Nelson managed to find open receivers just enough to get within field-goal range where Jordan Wettstein would take over and convert a 48-yard field goal to bring Minnesota back within a touchdown.
Michigan State continued to run at will against the Golden Gophers in the fourth quarter, with Le'Veon Bell climbing over the 250-yard mark during a 57-yard drive in which he would reach the end zone, essentially sealing Minnesota's fate.
During the Gophers' postgame press conference, athletic director Norwood Teague noted that Jerry Kill had suffered a seizure prior to walking back onto the field after halftime, but also downplayed the issue and expected that the head coach would be back to work on Monday (h/t ESPN).
With the 26-10 win the Spartans are now bowl-eligible, and the Gophers are left to play the waiting game as the bowl selection committees determine their fate.
Either way, Coach Kill has plenty to work on with his squad, as they were outmatched in every facet of the game. They gave up 421 yards to the Spartans, while managing only 96 yards on offense themselves, including a meager four yards on the ground.
The additional practices a team gets in preparation for a bowl can be a crucial step in preparing for the next season, and in Minnesota's case, they couldn't have come at a better time.
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