Know Thy Opponent: Michigan State

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Minnesota welcomes Michigan State to TCF Bank Stadium tomorrow, so we turned to Brian Calloway of the Lansing State Journal to learn more about the Spartans. You can follow Brian on Twitter at @brian_calloway.

GopherSports: Brian, thanks for taking the time to speak with us. Can you give us a brief scouting report on the Spartans?

Brian Calloway: Michigan State's offense has had its share of struggles throughout the season as its struggled to get the ball in the end zone. Injuries on the offensive line and to tight end Dion Sims have hampered the unit at times as well. MSU was unable to come away with points when inside the 5-yard line on two different occasions last week against Northwestern. Le'Veon Bell is the main guy on offense and has six games with more than 100 rushing yards and ranks seventh in school history in rushing yards. First-year starting quarterback Andrew Maxwell has done well spreading the ball to multiple receivers with Keith Mumphery, Bennie Fowler, Tony Lippett and Sims each with more than 30 catches. Defensively, junior middle linebacker Max Bullough is the heart and sole and has made many big plays this season. Junior defensive end William Gholston is very talented and has come on here of late. The defense is just as dominant as it was last year but has struggled to force turnovers, which plays into the disappointing season.

GS: The Spartans need to win to become bowl eligible. Is there a sense of determination this week to get that sixth win or is there a different feeling surrounding the team, given its high preseason expectations?

BC: There is very much a sense of determination for the Spartans to get bowl eligible and the wheels haven't fallen off despite the lofty preseason expectations. This group has stayed together and many have taken the approach of this being like a playoff game to keep their season alive. MSU coach Mark Dantonio said during his weekly press conference 'when we win this game' as a way of trying to instill confidence in his team, which has had several disappointing losses here this season (five Big Ten losses by total of 13 points). But there is determination there to get to a bowl and get the extra practices and Dantonio called Saturday's contest a 'program game.'

GS: You mentioned Le'Veon Bell earlier. He leads the nation in rushing attempts and is one of the best backs in the country. What is the key to slowing him down, or isn't there one?

BC: The key to slowing Bell is forcing him to run east-west instead of north-south. He doesn't necessarily have the speed to get around the edge when running to the side. That would be the biggest key.

GS: Who is an under-the-radar player for the Spartans this year? A player who Gopher fans may not be familiar with but should keep an on on Saturday?

BC: Most of the talk about the Spartan defense centers around the success of the linebackers and Gholston, but junior safety Isaiah Lewis  has been a strong component of the secondary. He led the team with nine tackles against Northwestern and is tied for second on the team with 72 tackles. Offensively that person is probably Mumphery, who has quietly become the most consistent receiver and leads the team with 40 catches for 506 yards.

GS: Can you finish this sentence for us? Michigan State will win if....

BC: Michigan State will win if its able to force turnovers and find a way to finish drives with touchdowns instead of relying on what's been an inconsistent kicking game this season.

GS: Brian, thanks for your time. We certainly appreciate it.

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