EAST LANSING, Mich. -- MarQueis Gray and Da'Jon McKnight each had the best statistical day of their Gopher careers Saturday, but it wasn't enough.
Michigan State tailback Le'Veon Bell raced 35 yards for a fourth-quarter touchdown, and the Gophers' hopes of upsetting a ranked team on its home field for the first time since 2000 fell excruciatingly short, 31-24 to the 15th-ranked Spartans.
Gray connected with McKnight for all three Minnesota touchdowns, and threw for a career-high 295 yards on 19-of-32 passing -- establishing new career-highs in completions, yards and scoring passes. McKnight finished with nine catches for 173 yards and the three scores, also career bests in all three categories.
But Michigan State senior countered with a 296-yard day of his own, and the Gophers' last-ditch drive fizzled with an interception with 10 seconds to play, dropping Minnesota to 2-7 on the season and 1-4 in the Big Ten. MSU is now 7-2, and tied atop the Legends Division with a 4-1 conference record.
Despite the loss, the game represented the best all-around showing of the season for the Gophers, especially considering the quality of the nationally ranked opponent. Minnesota rushed for 118 yards on an MSU defense that had allowed an average of 101 this season, and passed for nearly 300 yards on a defense that had averaged just 127.
McKnight was the biggest star, getting the Gophers on the board first for the first time in a Big Ten game this season, then adding additional touchdowns when the Gophers needed him most.
McKnight caught a 10-yard pass from Gray on the Gophers' first drive, broke a couple of tackles and turned the play into Minnesota's longest from scrimmage this season, a 64-yard romp into the end zone.
The Gophers got a break later in the quarter when Spartan tailback Edwin Baker fumbled, and linebacker Keanon Cooper fell on the ball on Michigan State's 26. After a 13-yard scramble by Gray rolled up half the necessary yardage, McKnight made a difficult catch in the left corner of the end zone, going up and over cornerback Johnny Adams, then coming down with his feet in bounds.
And on the Gophers' first drive of the second half, Gray found McKnight by himself in the back of the end zone and hit him with a 15-yard scoring pass that put Minnesota ahead, 24-21, and threatening to pull off its first road upset of a ranked team since a 29-17 win at Ohio State in 2000.
The Spartans countered, however, with a 40-yard field goal early in the fourth quarter, then retook the lead for good with 10:58 to play on Bell's big run around right tackle. The MSU tailback finished with 96 yards on 15 carries.
The Gophers return to TCF Bank Stadium next Saturday for a game with Wisconsin.