The Michigan State Spartans are coming to town Oct. 14, and it could be the worst matchup of the season for the Minnesota Golden Gophers.
The Spartans are 4-1, fresh off wins against Iowa and Michigan in one-score games. Putting together an impressive resume, with two Big Ten wins and a road victory against the then ranked No. 7 Michigan Wolverines.
So what makes this team different, particularly in the second half of games?
When the Spartans have obtained early leads, they clamp down defensively and hold the lead, suffocating the other team’s offense for four quarters. But is not just Big Ten teams, in every win against FBS school played this season – minus Notre Dame -, the Spartans’ defense has been able to force plenty of pressure in the backfield, along with turnovers to give the offense a chance to burn more clock.
While their opponents haven’t always been impressive, the first signs of the Spartans’ persistence late in games showed in their win against Western Michigan in week two. They recorded eight tackles for loss, four sacks and an interception on defense in the victory. This helped them pile on their 14-0 first half lead to win 28-14.
It was intriguing then, but it became even more impressive as they dove into their Big Ten schedule.
They took on Iowa at home, where they racked up three sacks and nine tackles for loss along two fumbles. The defense sunk their teeth into the opposing offense, forcing fumbles on the first two Iowa drives to start the third quarter after heading into the half up 17-7. Needing very little from the offense but to use up the clock, the Spartans let up a mere three points in the second half to secure the 17-10 victory.
But if Iowa was fresh off a last second loss to Penn State, does that win hold as much weight? Yes, because Michigan State backed it up with an impressive road win against their in-state rival Michigan Wolverines. In both games, they won the same way.
Last weekend against the No. 7 Wolverines, the Spartans put on a true show, winning on the road 14-10, battling the pouring rain and against the odds to find a victory. Michigan State again went up early, going into the half 14-3 and held on to win 14-10 after a clinic put on by the defense. They racked up six tackles for loss, four sacks and three interceptions.
On offense, the team does just enough to keep them in the game. Quarterback Brian Lewerke only has 1,057 yards and nine touchdowns. The key is his mere two interceptions, neither of which have been thrown against Big Ten teams.
Their running game is patched together with Madre London and Gerald Holmes sharing the load in L.J. Scott’s absence. Even with starting back Scott in, the running game was never impressive, but just enough to get the job down and secure wins.
The Gophers seem to be the polar opposite from the Spartans, struggling to hold on to leads in the second half, while the Spartans preserve them with grace and strong defense. Committing turnovers, where the Spartans force them.
The Gophers’ defense has let up 18 points to opposing offenses in the second half of each of the last two games. On offense, quarterback Conor Rhoda has had back-to-back fourth quarter interceptions on drives that could either tie or win the game if played correctly.
One team’s defense struggles mighty in the fourth quarter while the other finishes strong. This is going to be a major problem for the young Gophers squad and one week may not be enough time to plan around it.