Gophers replay No. 21 Michigan State 30, Gophers 27
In a game that started 34 minutes late because of a lightning delay and one that featured rain throughout, the Gophers fell to 3-3 overall and 0-3 in the Big Ten. Michigan State (5-1, 3-0) built a 23-6 lead late in the third quarter only to see Gophers backup quarterback Demry Croft throw three fourth-quarter touchdown passes to Tyler Johnson. The final one, with 1:06 left, pulled the Gophers within three points, but Michigan State recovered the ensuing onside kick and ended the game.
Croft, who was suspended for the Middle Tennessee and Maryland games, took over in the second quarter after starting QB Conor Rhoda struggled, going 5-for-12 for 53 yards. Croft went 11-for-20 for 163 yards and the three TDs with one interception.
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Better run defense needed
Michigan State can run the ball, and the Spartans went off for 245 yards on 50 carries, led by LJ Scott’s 194 yards on 25 rushes. And if you throw out the 28-yard loss on punter Jake Hartberger’s fumbled punt snap, the Spartans averaged 5.6 yards per carry. “[Michigan State coach] Mark Dantonio and I come from the same guy. His name is Jim Tressel,’’ said Gophers coach P.J. Fleck, who worked as a graduate assistant under the former Ohio State coach. “When Tresselball is happening to you, that’s no fun. I like to do Tresselball to somebody else.’’ The Gophers run defense still has big tests remaining in Michigan, which ranks fourth in the Big Ten at 185 rushing yards per game, and Wisconsin, which leads the conference at 263.8.
During his Sunday morning appearance on WCCO Radio, Fleck said he didn’t expect any injured players to be ready to return for Saturday’s game against Illinois. “It’s probably not going to change,’’ he said. “We lost some more last night. There’s going to be a lot of guys we don’t get back.’’ Tight end Brandon Lingen (ankle) and guard Vincent Calhoun (leg) left the Michigan State game in the first half because of injuries. Running back Shannon Brooks injured a leg but returned to the game.
Up next Illinois
2:30 p.m. Saturday, TCF Bank Stadium, BTN
If there ever was a good time for the Gophers to have a visit from the Illini, it is now. Illinois (2-4, 0-3 Big Ten) is coming off a 35-24 home loss to Rutgers, which ended the Scarlet Knights’ 16-game Big Ten losing streak and cemented Illinois’ last-place standing. The Illini have lost six consecutive Big Ten games, the Gophers four. Jeff George Jr. passed for 308 yards and two TDs against Rutgers, but he also threw two interceptions. The Illini also lost their leading rusher, Mike Epstein, likely for the season, because of a foot injury. “[This] isn’t where we want to be, but that’s where we are,” Illinois coach Lovie Smith said.