Hey Spartan fans, welcome back to another edition of my keys to the game for this Saturday. Hopefully you all forgot about last week's
embarrassment lost to Big Red, because Michigan State is going to need all the positive energy they can get to finish out this season.
After Michigan State went 3-1 to kick off the Big Ten schedule, the Spartans find themselves with a shot to make it to the conference title game. Sure, they could use a couple of losses from Nebraska and Michigan, but they also need to close out this season.
Their next four opponents probably won't keep Mark Dantonio up at night, but that doesn't mean they can look past these teams.
Minnesota comes to East Lansing fresh off of a comeback victory against the Iowa Hawkeyes, winning the ball game 22-21. It's only their second win of the season, but maybe they are finally clicking on all cylinders, who knows.
All that we do know is that the Spartans and Golden Gophers have some business to take care of Saturday. Michigan State is looking to have a chance to go to Pasadena, Minnesota is looking to keep them from going there.
The odds favor Michigan State heavily, but if both teams follow these three keys to the game, we could be watching a barn burner in Spartan Stadium.
Slow the game down
This key to the game has been thrown out multiple times, and that's because it can mean life or death to a team.
Minnesota needs to slow this game down, run out the clock and keep Michigan State's offense off the field as much as possible. If Michigan State dominates in time of possession, I imagine this game could be a 100-point deficit.
Not only will it keep the Spartans' offense off the field, but it will bore the fans to a point where they will feel like they are watching a blanket quilting race. Getting the loud fanbase out of the picture is another way the Gophers can make this their game.
So basically the first key for Minnesota stems from third-grade logic; the more time you have the ball, the less time the other team does.
Shut down BJ Cunningham
Well last week the Apocalypse just about happened after stud receiver BJ Cunningham was held without a catch. Coincidentally, the MSU offense was just about as effective as putting a Band-Aid on a broken arm.
The Spartans only averaged 3.2 yards per pass, which made a lot of MSU fans throw their TVs out the window and had them on the rough end of a 24-3 defeat. The total lack of a deep passing game to Michigan State's profile receiver killed them, and I can only imagine every team from here on out will give that same attention to Cunningham.
If Minnesota doesn't stop or at least contain Cunningham, expect a field day for the passing game.
Treat third downs like the last play of the game
It is nothing shy of incredible that the Golden Gophers found a way to beat Iowa by going 3-11 on third downs. If Al Michaels were there, he would have been more ecstatic about that win than USA defeating USSR 4-3 in the Miracle on Ice.
The bad news for Minnesota is that it was not a fluke, the Golden Gophers are in fact that bad at converting on third down. As a matter of fact, they rank 117th in the nation on third downs converted per game with 3.6.
This one will be a lot easier said than done, however, since the Spartans only let up 3.6 conversions per game. That is good enough to give Michigan State the third best defense in the nation when it comes to stopping a third-down conversion.
If Minnesota can win this game with only three or four third-down conversions, I will transfer to their school.
Score quick, and score often
The Spartans mindset should be to end this game in the first half, simple as that. They should want to beat them so bad that the NCAA will consider a mercy immediately after the game.
Getting a comfortable lead will set the Spartans coasting for the rest of the game, and possibly giving starters a break late in the game. The reasons for this key are obvious: taking Minnesota out of the game mentally and game-length momentum for MSU.
It is crucial for every team to jump out to an early lead, but the reason I give the Spartans this as their No. 1 key is because this week they have the ability to do it.
Stop the run and make them throw
The quarterback situation for the Gophers is incredibly similar to Ohio State's. They have one guy who can scramble, but doesn't wow anyone with his accuracy. Their backup is a pocket quarterback who isn't much better with his accuracy either. With that, guess what the Gophers love to do.
You got it! They love to run the ball, and that's what won them the game against Iowa.
Giving themselves 178 rushing yards in the box score gave them the victory, and Michigan State has to make sure they don't let that happen.
Jerel Worthy and the linebacking core will be called on this game to make sure the running game is contained. The Gophers starting quarterback, Marqueis Gray, is a dual-threat player, but the Spartans have a lot of experience against those types of quarterbacks.
Improve on field position
In Michigan State's last three games, 76 percent of their drives have started within their own 35-yard line. Also, in the last three games the Spartans haven't started a single drive in the opposition's territory.
How about that for a couple of fun facts?
Part of the reason for the Spartans' troubles in scoring the ball is because they have to travel a great length to get to the end zone. Special teams need to step it up to give the offense something to work with to start their drives, because it's not easy to make a touchdown when starting in the other team's red zone.
Defense has been doing a decent job at forcing turnovers lately, but they can definitely work on getting some three-and-outs. It's not abnormal for the Spartans to pin their opposition inside the 20, but then give up a few first downs before they step up and stop them.
Michigan State- 42
Have no fear Spartan Nation, your squad is coming out of this one with a convincing rebound victory. Don't fire your travel agent just yet, because you still may need him to book you a sweet hotel in Indy.
Highlights for the Spartans
-BJ Cunningham gets back on track, and looks at the camera and says "I was just kidding last week" after one of his two touchdowns.
-Big confidence building game for Kirk Cousins.
-People almost kind of barely forget about what Gholston did against Michigan.
Highlights for the Golden Gophers
-Not a whole lot of penalties.
-The running game isn't entirely shut down.
-They had a great team breakfast at the hotel. I mean great.
Lowlights for the Spartans
-Special teams will still be an issue.
-No running back has a standout game since they will all be splitting time.
-Jerel Worthy gets arrested, but is shortly released after police review the tape and realize it was just a sack.
Lowlights for the Golden Gophers
-The passing game makes head coach Jerry Kill punt his headset.
-Nothing to smile about on the defensive side of the ball.
-Michigan State shows up to the stadium.