MSU Football Looks to Clinch Bowl Berth, Salvage Season at Minnesota
Date: Saturday, November 24, 3:30 P.M.
Location: TCF Bank Stadium, Minneapolis, Minn.
Television: Big Ten Network
Radio: Spartan Sports Network
"When we win Saturday — and I'll say when — to be a 6-6 football team, we're not climbing out of the cellar as a 2-10 football team."
Strong words coming from Michigan State Football coach Mark Dantonio, days removed from a 23-20 heartbreaker in the home finale versus Northwestern. Three years ago on Halloween night, the Spartans went into Minnesota sporting a 4-4 record — eerily similar to this season — and ended up giving up 42 points en route to their fifth loss. Dantonio hopes for a different outcome this time around.
"This week up is Minnesota. I think it's a program game for us, no question about that. Sometimes you have your goals in mind, you have to reevaluate your goals as you move forward. Right now our goal is to get to a bowl game," he said.
In order to clinch a bowl game — which would likely be the Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl in Tempe, Ariz. — the Spartans will need to rely on what has won them games thus far, forcing turnovers, and effectively using the running game.
In their five victories, the Spartans have averaged 167 yards rushing, versus 115 in six losses. Most of this can be attributed to attrition on the offensive line, which has been riddled with injuries. As the passing game has been slowly improving, it has helped the rushing game, with the Spartans going over 100 yards in five of the last six games.
As for the opposition, the Golden Gophers have already qualified for a bowl game, and are looking to improve on their selection as they try to avenge their 31-24 loss last season in East Lansing.
Coming into the season, the Gophers had a bonafide NFL prospect in quarterback-turned-receiver in MarQueis Gray. Limited with ankle injuries this year, he hasn't gotten as many touches as he'd like, but says he'll be ready for Saturday.
"Going back there, I feel like I'm home again. Running the ball, just giving our team the competitive edge to go in there and put points on the board and help our defense stay off the field, that's what it's all about, and it'll be great if I get that chance again," Gray said.
The Gophers have struggled on offense, ranking 9th in the Big Ten, and won't catch any breaks with leading receiver A.J. Barker departing the team in a rather unusual way. Angry with the way he was being treated by the coaching staff, he sent a hostile e-mail to coach Jerry Kill, and then posted it to his personal blog, highlighting the indiscretions.
The Gophers swear that it won't distract them in preparation for Saturday's game, but for the Spartans sake, they better hope it does with a bowl berth hanging in the balance.
Michigan State: 24 Minnesota: 17