Without their coach and without anything resembling a Big Ten offense, the Gophers limped toward the postseason on Saturday, secure in the knowledge that Le'Veon Bell can't hurt them there.
Bell roared into the Big Ten rushing lead with 266 yards, or almost three times as many yards as Minnesota's entire offense produced against a Spartans defense bent on reaching a bowl game of its own, and Michigan State handed the Gophers a 26-10 loss that raises a host of new questions.
Chief among them: What's the condition of coach Jerry Kill, who remained in the locker room at halftime?
Kill suffered an epileptic seizure just before he was to leave the locker room, and defensive coordinator Tracy Claeys coached the second half from the press box. Kill is recovering normally from the seizure, athletic director Norwood Teague said afterward, and will not require hospitalization. He's expected back at work on Monday, Teague said.
Kill has twice before been stricken with epileptic seizures on a game day. Last year, Kill suffered a seizure late in the fourth quarter of a 28-21 loss to New Mexico State, and last month, Kill was stricken about an hour after Minnesota's 21-13 loss to Northwestern. In both cases, Kill rejoined the team after short hospital stays.
But the Gophers have more questions to answer, too, like: Will the Meineke Car Care Bowl prefer a 6-6 Purdue team that has won three straight games, or a 6-6 Minnesota team that beat the Boilermakers but has lost two straight games without showing a glimmer of offense? And wherever the Gophers end up next month, who will quarterback an offense that has failed to pass or throw for 100 yards in each of the past two games?
The Gophers had hopes of posting their first winning regular-season record since 2009, but Michigan State's need for a victory in order to reach bowl eligibility proved a more effective motivation. Junior quarterback Andrew Maxwell had little luck passing against Minnesota's defense, completing 13 of 29 passes for 143 yards, with two interceptions and a touchdown.
But who needs to throw the ball when you have a yardage machine like Bell, who entered the game in second place, 35 yards behind Wisconsin's Montee Ball, for the Big Ten rushing lead. Bell found huge hole after huge hole in the rushing defense, and finished with the second-biggest yardage total by an opponent in Gophers history. On 35 carries, Bell piled up 266 yards and a touchdown; only Wisconsin's Anthony Davis, who finished with 301 yards against Minnesota in 2002, has ever had more.
Minnesota, by contrast, had no running game. Donnell Kirkwood's 19 yards led the team, and the Gophers had only four yards as a team. The passing game was hardly any better: the Gophers used all three active quarterbacks, and they combined to go 13-for-30 for 92 total yards and four interceptions. Starter Philip Nelson threw three of the picks, and completed just 10 of 23 passes.
The Gophers' only touchdown was provided by the defense. Minnesota linbacker Aaron Hill grabbed one Maxwell pass at the Michigan State 33 and picked his way down the sideline for a touchdown, giving the Gophers a first-quarter lead that they held until the final 90 seconds of the half.