Immediately after shaking off the Spartans’ debiliating defeat in Iowa City last weekend, fans, supporters, and even team members themselves were pinpointing this Saturday as a crucial, “bounce-back” game, a contest that the Spartans must win, and aÂ key to keeping their Big Ten titleÂ hopes alive. Â After their effort today against Minnesota, the Spartans can cross all three off of their “to-do” list.
Although both the atmosphere (in a less-than-fullÂ Spartan Stadium)Â and the opponent (with eight losses to their name)Â were subpar, MSU made it clear that the Golden Gophers would not trip them upÂ in the same fashion as theÂ Hawkeyes.Â While Minnesota did move the ball 34 yards inÂ seven plays to open the game, their fourth-down field goal try failed, and the Spartans were off and running. The Gophers’ special teams error cost them a chance at essential early-game points, and Michigan State’s defensive stand resulted in the first of four Edwin Bakers touchdown runs just overÂ three minutes later.
This short sequence set the tone for the rest of the game. The stop andÂ resultingÂ score showcased both Michigan State’s early-game defensive intensity and their continued commitment to running the football on any opponent, anywhere. Their next big test came on defense however, after an Aaron BatesÂ punt and with the Golden Gophers threatening at the MSU 41. But, FB Jon Hoese was stuffed on his fourth down-try, andÂ two possessions later, Baker found the endzone again to widen the lead toÂ 2 touchdowns.
Following another impressive defensive stand, the Spartans’ third scoringÂ drive was even more powerful than the first two, totaling eight plays and draining the remaining 4:06 in the half. In taking control of the game early, establishing the run, and holding Minnesota scoreless in the first two quarters, MSU did exactly what it set out to doÂ in the game’s opening half. Â TheyÂ delivered a resoundingÂ message,Â and in converting on two fourth-and-goal opportunities, effectively pounced on the helpless Gophers.
Not only were these key points in terms of an overall victory, they were also reassuring signs that these Spartans will still do whatever it takes to win, a trait we’ve seen on display so often this season. When victory required the ability to run the football,Â their backs carried the load. Â When victory required a strong passing attack, touchdowns soared through the air. And when victory required a fake field goal, Michigan State pulled out an improbable trick to play to win.
In the case of today’s game, the Spartans paid victory’s toll by coming out strong and delivering early jabs in the form of defensive stops andÂ quick scores,Â before leveling Minnesota with a third first-half touchdown. Most importantly,Â in running for 189 yards total in addition to four scores, they bolstered their home rushing average, and returned to success not seen since their date with Michigan-in that particular contest they pummeled U-M for 249 yards.
As in the victory over the Wolverines,Â BakerÂ played an essential part in the final statline. With 27 carries for 179 yards, the Highland Park native displayed incredible ability and power. He also showedÂ he’sÂ the type of ballcarrier the Spartans can ride through the rest of the Big Ten season and into a lucrative bowl game.
The emergence ofÂ not only Baker, butÂ of different players week after week speaks to the depth of this Michigan State football team, and in a game where the Spartans threw for only 131 yards, relying on versatility and fresh faces was critical.Â Behind Baker, freshman WR Bennie Fowler was the second-leading rusher in the win, and it’s clear that the Michigan native is quickly becoming a go-to member of the Spartans’ offense minus regular starter Keshawn Martin.
MSU’s ability to plug in young players like Fowler and still experience not only success, but also conference victories, speaks even further volumes about the talent of thisÂ program and their commitment to excellence. Even after weathering the storm that was last week’s Iowa game, Michigan State went right back to work, re-grouped and got better in every way today.
After only running for an average of 76 yards over three games, the Spartans blew that total away on Saturday.Â Â After racking up 63 penalty yards in a debilitating loss, they more than halved that total in a decisive win.Â After going into enemy territory and leaving wounded, Michigan State returned home and battled tooth-and-nail in every aspect. Most importantly though, after getting knocked down, these Spartans got back up. Let’s keep it that way.