The Minnesota Golden Gophers will be on the road Saturday for a Big Ten Conference matchup with the nationally-ranked Michigan State Spartans Saturday. The game is scheduled for an 11 a.m. CT kickoff from Spartan Stadium in E. Lansing, Mich.
Minnesota is coming off a stirring, come-from-behind 22-21 victory over Iowa in its last outing. The Gophers are now 2-6 overall and 1-3 in Big Ten play. Michigan State enters Saturday's contest with a 6-2 overall record and a 2-1 Big Ten mark. The Spartans, however, are coming off their first conference loss. Michigan State dropped a 24-3 decision at Nebraska last week. This will be the second consecutive season Minnesota will visit E. Lansing.
The Big Ten Network will televise Saturday's game. Matt Devlin will call the play-by-play action, while former Gopher head coach Glen Mason will be the analyst in the booth.
SCOUTING THE SPARTANS Minnesota faces Michigan State for the 44th time Saturday. The Spartans lead the all-time series 26-17.
Michigan State is coached by Mark Dantonio, who is in his fifth season as the head man in E. Lansing. Dantonio led Michigan State to a share of the Big Ten title last season, its first since 1990. He was the Big Ten Coach of the Year in 2010. Prior to taking over the Spartans, Dantonio was the head coach at Cincinnati for three years. He has also been an assistant at Akron, Youngstown State, Kansas, Michigan State and Ohio State.
The Spartans boast the No. 2-rated total defense in the nation. Michigan State allows just 228.8 yards per game. They are allowing just 15 points per game to rank No. 6 in scoring defense. Quarterback Kirk Cousins is a very efficient signal-caller, ranking 54th in passing efficiency (136.59). Offensively, Michigan State is the No. 84 total offense (363.6 ypg) and the No. 74 scoring offense (26.0 ppg) in the country.
SPECIAL GOPHERS Minnesota has earned two Big Ten Player of the Week honors during the 2011 season. Both have come from special teams play and both have come following the Gophers' two victories this season.
Most recently, Jordan Wettstein was named the Big Ten Special Teams Player of the Week after last week's 22-21 victory over Iowa. Wettstein had never attempted a PAT or field goal in a collegiate game prior to last week. He was 1-of-1 in both PATs and field goals. He also booted a perfect onside kick, which Minnesota recovered, allowing the Gophers to drive for a fourth-quarter, go-ahead touchdown. Duane Bennett won the other conference award after blocking a punt vs. Miami (Ohio) in Week 3.
GRAY MATTERS MarQueis Gray recorded career-high marks for completions (16), attempts (32), yards (211), touchdowns (2) and interceptions (2) in week two vs. New Mexico State. However, his performance against Iowa last week may have been the best overall outing of his career as a quarterback. His 64.7-percent completion rate was a career-best and his fourth-quarter touchdown run completed his first 4th-qtr comeback win.
CLIMBING THE CHARTS Running back Duane Bennett has cracked Minnesota's all-time career top 15 for rushing yardage. He has rushed for 1,893 yards in his career. Last week's total of 101 yards pushed him to the No. 18 spot on the chart. He needs just 107 yards to become just the 13th Gopher to rush for 2,000 career yards.
KIM-POSSIBLE Senior safety Kim Royston wasn't even supposed to be on the 2011 version of the Gopher football team. He thought his career might be over when he suffered a gruesome compound fracture of his lower leg. His initial recovery went well enough that many thought he would play in 2010. But the recovery saw a setback derail his senior season. However, the NCAA granted him a sixth year of eligibility. Royston turned in a career-best 16 tackles vs. Iowa last week. It was the most by a Gopher since Nate Triplett had 17 in the TCF Bank Stadium opener vs. Air Force on Sept. 12, 2009.
WETT BEHIND THE EARS With regular kicker Chris Hawthorne nursing a sore quad (thigh muscle), junior kicker Jordan Wettstein was thrust into action Saturday vs. Iowa. The junior walk-on, a former high school soccer player, came through enough to be honored as the Big Ten's Special Teams Player of the Week. Wettstein converted his one PAT and one field goal opportunity and kicked off four times. His most important contribution may have been the perfectly executed onside kick, which set Minnesota up for a game-winning, fourth-quarter touchdown drive.