Gophers v. Michigan State: Week 4 Preview

Sept. 19, 2022After a third-straight dominant win 49-7 over Colorado, the Gophers will face their first test of 2022 against Michigan State on the road in week four.

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Broadcast Info:

  • Date: Sat., Sept. 19
  • TV channel: BTN
  • Time of kickoff: 2:30 p.m. (CST)
  • Broadcast team: n/a (play-by-play) & n/a (color)
  • Betting line: Minnesota (-2.5) @ Michigan State, o/u: (51 points)

Opponent Information (Michigan State):

  • 2021 record: 11-2
  • 2022 record: 2-1
    • V. Western Michigan 35-13 W
    • V. Akron 52-0 W
    • @ Washington 39-28 L
  • Head Coach: Mel Tucker (2nd season)
  • Players to watch: Jayden Reed (WR), Payton Thorne (QB), Jalen Berger (RB), Angelo Grose (S), and Jacoby Windmon (LB)

The Gophers have had a dominant three-game stretch to start the 2022 season. Outscoring their opponents 149-17 is one of the best marks in college football. They now have their first true test of the season, traveling to East Lansing, Michigan for a pivotal matchup with Michigan State. The Spartans are fresh off a 39-28 road loss to Washington, but with an 11-2 season in 2021 and much of the same roster returning, head coach Mel Tucker still leads one of the most talented rosters in the Big Ten. Saturday’s 2:30 p.m. kickoff will go a long way in determining the early direction of this Gophers’ season.

Michigan State Season Storylines:

  • Mel Tucker’s $95 million contract:

After going 11-2 in his second season with Michigan State, the Spartans decided to award head coach Mel Tucker a massive 10-year $95 million contract, making him one of the highest-paid coaches in the sports. After going 2-5 in the COVID-shortened 2020 season, Sparty’s success last year came as a bit of a surprise. Tucker has been a “lifer” in the coaching realm with already 20+ years of experience, despite only being 50 years old. In only three short seasons as a head coach of a college program, Tucker has become one of the most respected names in the sport.

  • Transfer Portal:

One major reason for the endorsement of Tucker from the general public is his massive adaptation to the new transfer portal era. A big factor for the fast turnaround in 2021, was nearly a third of Michigan State’s roster turning over from the transfer portal, roughly 30 scholarship players left, while 15 joined, highlighted by All-Big Ten RB Kenneth Walker III who came from Wake Forest.

Heading into this season, Tucker said that he didn’t want to rely on the portal as much as he did in 2021, but Michigan State still added quite the group of talent. Highlighted by talented RBs Jalen Berger (Wisconsin) and Jarek Broussard (Colorado) the Spartans added eight players in total. Some programs, fans and coaches have not been fans of the new “portal-era”, but Mel Tucker and Michigan State have quickly embraced the new way of roster construction and it has seemed to pay off for them so far.

  • Payton Thorne, Jayden Reed and returning talent:

One reason why Michigan State began 2022 ranked in the top 20 of the AP Poll was its returning talent. Quarterback Payton Thorne totaled 3,300+ passing yards and 27 TDs last season, throwing to preseason All-Big Ten WR Jayden Reed, who accumulated 1,026 yards and 10 TDs in 2021. Thorne and Reed were expected to be one of the best QB/WR duos in the conference this season, but it hasn’t gone as smoothly. Reed has been dealing with injuries, missed the Washington game, and only has 10 catches for 107 yards on the season. Michigan State will likely always be a run-heavy under head coach Mel Tucker, but Reed and Thorne’s breakout in 2021 was a big factor in Sparty’s success.

Gophers’ path to victory:

Washington’s success against Michigan State in week three came through the air. Indiana-transfer Michael Penix Jr. was 24/40 passing for 397 yards and four TDs. After Penix struggled with injuries in 2021 with Indiana and had a 4-7 TD-INT ratio, it is fair to say that Michigan State’s secondary did not have a great game. The Spartans’ pass defense now ranks 103rd in CFB allowing 264.3 yards through the air per game, while their run-defense ranks 27th best in college football, allowing 89.7 yards on the ground per contest, the inverse of Minnesota’s strengths offensively.

Michigan State’s offense ranks as an above-average unit falling within the top 70 on both the passing and running the ball. Despite injuries to their No. 1 WR Jayden Reed, it’s fair to say that the Spartans have not lived up to the hype of being the preseason No. 15 ranked team in college football.

Based on the stats it would be fair to say that Michigan State’s defense matches up well with the Gophers, especially after No. 1 WR Chris Autman-Bell was ruled out for the season earlier this week. This game is going to force Kirk Ciarrocca and Tanner Morgan to open up the passing game, and truly see how improved that aspect of this team is against a formidable opponent. I believe that Brevyn Spann-Ford, Dylan Wright, Mike Brown-Stephens and Daniel Jackson are more than capable of filling CrAB’s void. Despite their talent, the Gophers’ top five receivers’ 107 combined catches, 1,599 yards and 7 TDs is a bit less than Autman-Bell’s 125 career catches, 1,970 yards and 13 TDs.

Mohamed Ibrahim has 12 consecutive games with 100+ yards and there is no reason why he cannot do the same in week four. Expecting a typical Mo performance would make this game come down to the Gophers’ pass catchers. If they step up in Chris Autman-Bell’s absence, I think the Gophers offense should have no issue moving the ball. Michigan State’s offense has been less than stellar, while Minnesota’s defense has been ELITE. Therefore, I am not sure if Sparty will even be able to keep up with the Maroon & Gold on the scoreboard. I have a feeling this will be a slugfest and a classic Big Ten game, with Minnesota coming out on top 20-17.

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