EAST LANSING - Michigan State's 31-24 victory over Minnesota was tighter than expected, with more errors than are commonplace in victory. But SpartanMag.com still managed to find a Hot 11 to salute as the Spartans emerged in sole possession of the Legends Division lead:
He missed a tackle on the 64-yard TD on Minnesota's first drive, but he was nails from that point on. He provided the game's turning point with a truly great diving interception when MSU was down 3 late in the fourth quarter. His coverage before that throw was outstanding as well. He made a big tackle on a tight end on third down in the fourth quarter, forcing a punt. He provided excellent coverage on a deep flanker reverse pass in the fourth quarter, coming out of his middle quarter to cover for Tony Lippett who bit on the run action and vacated the sideline. And then he secured victory with a sliding interception to end Minnesota's final drive. The rest of the secondary played poorly, and the Gophers put up a lot of yardage through the air, but it would have been more without Robinson providing much-needed glue and timely big plays. Simply put, MSU doesn't win this game without Robinson.
The sophomore averaged 6.4 yards per carry, good for 96 on the day on 15 carries. He provided the game-winning points with a 35-yard TD on third-and-one, making a great, quick little cut inside a Joel Foreman kickout block, then delivered a Billy Sims stiff-arm to push off and go the rest of the way. He also had five catches for 38 yards, including a key 12-yarder on third-and-10 during the two-minute drill TD drive at the end of the first half. He also returned the opening kickoff 31 yards.
The sophomore continues his emergence as one of the hottest, most reliable d-linemen in the country. He had 14 stops including 1.5 for losses, while playing a vital role against Minnesota's zone read and inverted veer option plays which put extreme stress on defensive end reads and reactions. Once again, his aggressive productivity was delivered within the structure of the team concept, without any freelancing. Secondly, he's just plain hard to block.
Kirk Cousins said this game was Nichol's best as a wide receiver while at Michigan State. His TD catch in the first quarter was his best pure play as a Spartan, although his Hail Mary catch against Wisconsin is his most famous. Nichol's 4-yard TD against Minnesota tied the game, answered the Gophers' opening strike, cashed in on what would have been a failed opportunity inside the 10-yard line, and bailed out Cousins on a throw that was left too far inside. Nichol went up and above a defender, snagged it with his hands and owned with his arms. Without that play, MSU's three-quarter slumber would have resulted in a bigger hole to climb out of. Also, Nichol turned a hitch into a 31-yard gain on the first play of MSU's scoring drive.
The sophomore middle linebacker uncharacteristically lost his gap on a 13-yard Gopher gain on the first play after Edwin Baker's fumble, but Bullough was solid the rest of the day, and occasionally excellent. He put heat on the QB as a blitzer, leading to Robinson's first interception. He finished an inside linebacker cross blitz with a TFL with 13:40 remaining.
The senior WR led Michigan State with seven receptions, including catches for 25, 14 and 14 yards on the first play of drives. He also provided a good block on Baker's 11-yard run during the go-ahead TD drive and turned in a 6-yard snag on a third-and-four conversion in the first half.
The senior fullback delivered a 2-yard TD catch on a bluff route at the end of the first half, giving the Spartans the lead with :05 seconds left in the first half. He also delivered a good lead block on Bell's 21-yard run to the 1-yard line on the last play of the first quarter. He also delivered a good block on the d-end on Bell's 25-yard TD.
The freshman punter averaged just 35 yards on five attempts, largely because the Spartan offense often gave him a short field to punt to. But he pinned the Gophers inside the 10-yard line three times, including twice in the last 7:14 of the game. His 33-yarder with 2:22 remaining might have hurt his average but it pinned the Gophers back at their 10-yard line on their last possession of the game. Four minutes earlier, his 44-yarder put the Gophers at their own 6-yard line. Sadler had a 31-yarder in the first half which was fair caught at the 7-yard line.
Michigan State's all-time receptions leader turned in a 69-yarder on a deep post in the first quarter, setting up the Spartans' first TD. He finished with three catches for a team-high 104 yards. He led a diving attempt at a 38-yarder slip throughout his hands in the second quarter. It wasn't a dropped pass; it was a difficult pass to catch, but it was one we have come to expect him to make. He had catches for 21 and 14 yards on the two-minute drill TD drive.
You can't pass for 296 yards with no interceptions without making some sort of star list. This wasn't his best afternoon, but it's difficult to handle 62 snaps without making two or three mistakes. Sometimes just catching snaps from third-string center Ethan Ruhland was a positive play in itself. (Ruhland was solid most of the day too, but everyone seemed to have a lapse or two on this day). Cousins made mistakes in the red zone, including taking a bad sack and committing a personal foul, both of which took MSU out of field goal range. And he was fortunate that Brian Linthicum broke up what could have been an interception in the back of the end zone on third down early in the fourth quarter. Linthicum's play allowed Dan Conroy to tie the game at 24-24. Cousins was excellent during the two-minute drill at the end of the half. On six consecutive possessions through the middle stages of the game, Cousins began drives with complete passes, good for 31, 25, 11, 14, 18 and 14 yards.
The junior nose guard has been playing a bit tougher and steadier in the last two or three games. White didn't put up big numbers in this game, assisting on just two tackles. But he continually stood strong against double teams, knifing into them and hosting his gap while rarely giving ground. He helped limit Minnesota on the type of inside running plays that worked more consistently for the Gophers a week earlier against Iowa