Each week here in the Golden Gopher Football blog, I chat with a beat writer or member of the media who covers the opponent and we publish that interview in a Q&A format here. This week, Joe Rexrode of the Lansing State Journal was kind enough to give us a few minutes. Here's that interview ...
GopherSports.com: What's the mood around the Spartan program this week after the way things went in Lincoln last Saturday?
Joe Rexrode: There's definitely some disappointment because the Spartans feel like they didn't give Nebraska their best shot, but they're now looking at November as a new start of sorts -- calling it a "playoff" to try to get to the Big Ten title game. They know they have to win out (while hoping Nebraska loses a game) to get there.
GopherSports.com: What's your opinion on how Michigan State views this game? Does the win over Iowa grab their attention a bit more?
Joe Rexrode: I'm sure MSU coaches were pleased to see that result, because you can tell players an opponent is tough all you want, but now the coaches have evidence to show their players. The Spartans know how dangerous MarQueis Gray is (especially safety Isaiah Lewis, his former high school teammate), and I think they respect the Gophers' competitiveness.
GopherSports.com: Who/what has Michigan State's attention this week, when it comes to Minnesota?
Joe Rexrode: Gray, as I mentioned, along with Duane Bennett and Da'Jon McKnight. That's a good offensive skill trio. Gary Tinsley earned some mention as a linebacker who can make plays on that defense.
GopherSports.com: Who should Gopher fans who may not be familiar with all the Spartans' stars keep an eye on in this game?
Joe Rexrode: The obvious ones on offense are QB Kirk Cousins and WR B.J. Cunningham, but watch for TE Dion Sims and RB Le'Veon Bell as well. Bell started last week for Edwin Baker and has been MSU's best back in the past two weeks. On defense, OLB Denicos Allen has been a surprise star this year. And the aforementioned Lewis has two interception returns for touchdowns. Sophomore DE Will Gholston is an emerging star who had 15 tackles last week at Nebraska.
GopherSports.com: Are there any position matchups or game-within-a-game situations that you're particularly interested to see this week?
Joe Rexrode: I'm interested to watch Brandon Kirksey against MSU's interior offensive linemen. It will be interesting to see how MSU defends Gray, the Spartans have done well against mobile quarterbacks this season but he is much bigger and more physical than anyone they've faced. I will be watching to see if Minnesota gives safety help to bracket B.J. Cunningham all day, as Nebraska did with great success last week. That takes help away from the run defense, but the Huskers got away with it.
GopherSports.com: How does Michigan State win this game?
Joe Rexrode: By coming with the proper emotion and focus after four tough and draining games. The Spartans need to rediscover their running game and continue with the stingy rush defense to put Gray in third-and-long situations.
GopherSports.com: How does Minnesota win this game?
Joe Rexrode: Emotion is important here, too. The Golden Gophers need to build on that Iowa win, not be satisfied with it. Gray is going to have to make some big plays in the passing game and Minnesota has to wind up with a big edge in special teams and in the final turnover tally.