Michigan State overcame a very slow start to beat Minnesota 31-24 on Saturday. Frankly, there was not much in this game for the Spartans to be particularly proud of.
The Golden Gophers came into Saturday 2-6 overall and only 1-3 in the Big Ten after surprising Iowa last week for their first conference win. This should have been a cake walk for Michigan State, which needs to win out to have any chance of a Legends Division title.
Instead the Gophers, led by elusive quarterback MarQueis Gray, gave the Spartans a fight all game long. Gray threw for 295 yards and ran for another 71, keeping the usually stout Spartans defense on its heels. Michigan State came in giving up an average of 228 yards per game, good enough for second in the nation, behind only Alabama. The suddenly prolific Minnesota offense put up 415 yards.
Only after the Spartans’ Trenton Robinson picked off Gray on the game’s final possession could Michigan State fans actually feel any sense of relief. Considering most in East Lansing figured this one would be settled by halftime, it is quite alarming this game went down to the wire and saw the Spartans hold on for just a seven-point victory.
As is usually the case for the Spartans, there are many question marks after this game. Where was the pressure and athleticism from the defensive line? What has happened to Edwin Baker? Why is Kirk Cousins of all people taking unsportsmanlike conduct penalties?
While all of these are valid questions, the bottom line is that Michigan State just picked up another win in the Big Ten. That is more than Michigan can say after losing in Iowa City today.
With Iowa’s loss last week and the Wolverines defeat today, those two teams have effectively removed themselves from contention in the Legends Division.
It is going to come down to Nebraska and Michigan State.
The Spartans move to 4-1 in conference (7-2 overall) with three games remaining: at Iowa, vs. Indiana and at Northwestern. Nebraska (7-1, 3-1) squares off with Northwestern later today, and then has remaining games at Penn State, at Michigan and against Iowa in Ames, Iowa.
Clearly the schedule favors the Spartans, but the Huskers have control of their own destiny. They own the tiebreaker over the Spartans on the merits of their beat-down of the Spartans last week.
Michigan State can continue to grind out ugly wins over lesser opponents the next few weeks as long as they find a way to win. However, Spartan fans will have to wear multiple hats and become Nittany Lions and Wolverines fans as the Big Ten season hits the home stretch.