The Michigan State Spartans’ dominating performance against Northwestern secured them a spot in the Big Ten Championship game against the Ohio State Buckeyes. The regular season isn’t over yet, however, and the Minnesota Golden Gophers would love nothing more than to add a loss to the Spartans’ ledger.
With possible BCS implications looming, the Spartans need a big victory to stay in the hunt and preserve their potentially excellent bowl prospects. Additionally, the team would love to finish the Big Ten regular season unbeaten. How will Michigan State get to that point? What will help Minnesota pull a shocking road upset? The final Spartan Sideline of the regular season sets the table.
Michigan State’s Key To Victory: Don’t look past.
If there’s one game which could personify an ugly trap the best, it’s Saturday’s contest against the Golden Gophers. The Spartans are one week removed from clinching the division, and another week ahead of playing the Buckeyes. In the middle, they have enjoyed Thanksgiving. Now, they must come out and end the season on a high note against Minnesota. To do this, it will likely revolve mostly around refusing to look past a very potent Minnesota offense and quietly capable defense.
Minnesota’s Key To Victory: Have success with the run.
Many might not realize it, but the Golden Gophers already have a 1,000 yard rusher to their credit in 2013. David Cobb has done a fantastic job grinding out yards for Minnesota, and has given the offense a powerful weapon. Behind Cobb, the Gophers have rushed for a solid 207.3 yards per-game, which places them near the top half of teams in the NCAA. Against the Spartans tough defense, running might be easier said than done, but if the Gophers can manage anything on the ground, they could set themselves up for some success in the passing game. It’s probably the only way Minnesota can hope to move the ball against the Spartans on the road.
As much as Cobb is a player to watch for Minnesota, Langford is the same for Michigan State. Last season, Le’Veon Bell set a career rushing record going for 266 yards in a win in Minneapolis. Could Langford manage to do the same against the Gophers this season? It’s possible considering the Spartans will likely want to run the ball and the offensive line is executing at a solid pace. If Minnesota cannot stop Langford, they will be in for a very long day much like Michigan, Nebraska and Northwestern were.
Nelson had a miserable game against the Spartans last year, getting intercepted three times and only completing 10 passes in 23 attempts for 61 yards. This season, Nelson has done much better as a thrower, especially on the road, where he’s contributed 537 yards and five touchdowns to only one interception. Nelson can run and extend the play, but if he gets the arm going against a good Michigan State secondary, he can be a more dangerous foe.
Most Important “State” Stat Of The Game: 197, the amount of rushing yards the Wisconsin Badgers collected against the Golden Gophers last weekend in a blowout win. Michigan State has a ground attack and offensive line mentality similar to Wisconsin’s, and the Badgers managed to salt the game away with punishing rushes from Melvin Gordon and James White. If Minnesota can’t stop the Spartans’ rushing attack this year, it will prove to be another long day for the defense.
Intangibles: Senior day.
The Spartans should be playing with plenty of emotion, being the team wants to send the seniors out of Spartan Stadium on a winning note. That emotion can always prove to be a double edged sword, however. If Michigan State gets a bit too preoccupied by the pregame festivities and forgets there’s a game to be played, they could come out flat and be forced to play catch up.
Prediction: Minnesota hasn’t been fantastic on the road this season, but providing all the intangibles of this game, the Golden Gophers might keep things relatively close early on. Michigan State. behind Langford, Connor Cook and an elite defense proves too much, however. The Spartans win convincingly with a major second half push. Michigan State 30, Minnesota 10
Max DeMara is a senior editor at The Detroit Sports Site. You can find him on Twitter @SportsGuyTheMax