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The Sports Network
DATE & TIME: Saturday, November 24, 3:30 p.m. (et)
FACTS & STATS: Site: TCF Bank Stadium (50,805) -- Minneapolis, Minnesota. Television: Big Ten Network. Home Record: MSU 2-5, Minnesota 4-2. Away Record: MSU 3-1, Minnesota 2-3. Neutral Record: MSU 0-0, Minnesota 0-0. Conference Record: MSU 2-5, Minnesota 2-5. Series Record: Michigan State leads, 27-17.
GAME NOTES: Big Ten rivals will square off at TCF Bank Stadium on Saturday afternoon to close out the regular season when the Minnesota Golden Gophers play host to the Michigan State Spartans.
Michigan State started the season as a nationally-ranked squad, and early in the season it did little to disprove that notion with wins in each of its first two games. Since then however, the Spartans have disappointed. They've lost four of five, most recently to Northwestern at home last week (23-20), and they'll need to win this game to become bowl eligible.
Minnesota, much like Michigan State, hasn't fared well in the Big Ten with just a 2-5 record, but thanks to a 4-0 start to the season in its non- conference games, it is already eligible for a bowl bid. The Gophers will try to bounce back from a 38-14 loss at Nebraska last week.
The Spartans hold a 27-17 lead over the Gophers in the all-time series, which includes win in each of the past two seasons.
Michigan State's offense has not performed up to expectations, as it ranks second to last in the Big Ten in scoring with just 19.7 ppg.
One bright spot for the unit has been star running back Le'Veon Bell, who has racked up 1,382 yards, second-most in the conference, and 10 rushing touchdowns. Bell has been a true workhorse back, garnering 315 carries this season, while no one else on the roster has more than 16. He ran for 133 yards a week ago versus Northwestern for his sixth 100-yard game of the year and the 10th of his career.
Even with a big-time performer in the backfield to take some of the pressure off, Andrew Maxwell hasn't performed very well under center. He has completed less than 54 percent of his passes for 2,435 yards with 12 touchdowns and seven interceptions. His 110.7 efficiency rating ranks only ahead of Illinois' Nathan Scheelhaase amongst starting Big Ten quarterbacks.
Keith Mumphrey is the Spartans' top receiving threat with 40 receptions for 506 yards and a touchdown, and Bennie Fowler (423 yards) and Dion Sims (447 yards) have also been effective.
The lackluster offensive attack has spoiled a very good season for the Michigan State defense. It allows just 16.9 ppg, and its total yards allowance (289.4 ypg) ranks seventh in the nation.
Max Bullough leads the team in tackles (95), tackles for loss (11) and sacks (2.5), while also making an interception and forcing a fumble. Darqueze Dennard and Kurtis Drummond have two picks apiece.
The rough-and-tumble Big Ten has also gotten the best of Minnesota's offense, and it too struggles to put up yards (337.6 ypg) and points (22.4 ppg).
The Gophers have had a revolving door at the quarterback position. Philip Nelson started last week but he was terrible, completing 8-of-23 passes for 59 yards and two interceptions, and his numbers on the year haven't been much better (674 yards, six TDs, four INTs). Max Shortell (822 yards, six TDs, four INTs) and MarQueis Gray (464 yards, five TDs, two INTs) have also taken snaps.
The quarterback carousel hasn't helped the receivers much. A.J. Barker had a team-high 30 catches for 577 yards and seven touchdowns, but he abruptly left the team. In his absence, the only remaining player with at least 200 yards receiving is Isaac Fruechte (19 receptions, 256 yards, two TDs).
The Gophers may be better suited leaning more on the running game, which is paced by Donnell Kirkwood (830 yards, five TDs). Gray (327 yards, five TDs) has also been utilized more in recent weeks at both running back and receiver rather than at quarterback.
While Minnesota's defense has played well (23.7 ppg, 346.5 ypg), it is oftentimes not good enough to make up for the sluggish offense.
D.L. Wilhite is one of the best pass rushers in the conference with 7.5 sacks and 10 tackles for loss. Derrick Wells, Michael Carter and Cedric Thompson each have two interceptions.
Eight of the Spartans' 11 games have been decided by one score, and this has all the makings of another one of those tough Big Ten battles. Michigan State has shown, however, that it has difficulty closing out tight games, meaning Minnesota gets a narrow edge playing at home.
Sports Network Predicted Outcome: Minnesota 21, Michigan State 20
11/21 10:53:39 ET
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