Matt Charboneau of The Detroit News breaks down Michigan State's win over Minnesota on Saturday night.
Minneapolis – Michigan State had some questions entering the season with its special teams, but halfway through the season, the Spartans are starting to find some favorable answers.
Redshirt freshman Matt Coghlin had three field goals and freshman Connor Heyward had three kickoff returns for 115 yards, including a 55-yarder that set up No. 21 Michigan State’s final touchdown in a 30-27 victory over Minnesota at TCF Bank Stadium.
“I thought he was confident,” Michigan State coach Mark Dantonio said of Coghlin. “(Heyward) has got great hands and we’ve been watching him. He’s got great hands, we played him a little bit last week and he’s a 220-pound guy back there and can bring it. I thought we needed to change it up and give him an opportunity.”
It was the first time this season Heyward had been the main return man as he also handled punts, returning one for 6 yards. He took over for fellow freshmen Andre Welch on kickoffs and Laress Nelson on punts.
“He is a great kid, a great player,” running back LJ Scott said of Heyward. “I’m always in his ear with him being a running back and I try and keep him in the game. He’s a freshman out there and he’s always asking questions and wants to learn. I know he looks up to me and I try and treat him like a little brother and get him right.”
Coghlin had field goals of 42, 35 and 25 yards before missing a 45-yarder in the fourth quarter. The three field goals were the most he’s had in a game, not much of a stretch considering he entered the game 2-for-3 on the season and didn’t attempt a field goal until the third game of the season.
Now that he’s finding a groove, however, Coghlin feels like he’ll get rolling.
“Making even one gets the confidence high and makes the goal posts look bigger,” Coghlin said. “So making the first one is key and then it seems to get easier.”
Michigan State also made two more key special teams plays in the fourth quarter by recovering two onside kicks. The first was recovered by junior Khari Willis, the second by freshman Cody White.
“It was great to see us recover those onside kicks,” linebacker Joe Bachie said. “It was great to see Connor have that return, I thought McLovin (Coghlin) did a great job kicking the ball and those were huge points. Hats off to the special teams.”
‘We have to adjust’
For the second straight week, Michigan State played a game in brutal conditions. The game was delayed 34 minutes because of lightning in the area and the rain hung around for most of the game.
It played a big role in Michigan State’s first turnover, a botched snap on a punt on the first drive of the game, and a fumble by quarterback Brian Lewerke on the first drive.
Yeah, I don’t know if we’ve really ever had one of those,” Dantonio said of the delay before the game started. “We’ve always sort of gone out (and played first), so it was a little different. But in the end, we just kept saying that we have to adjust.”
The Spartans did that, overcoming a Scott fumble in the second half while taking advantage of two Minnesota turnovers.
“I think last week going through all that with the rain definitely helped,” Lewerke said. “Just kind of refocusing. After the first fumbled snap I just focused more on getting my hands up in there and making sure I wasn’t pulling out too early. I think that’s what happened on that one and I just pulled out too early. As the game went on it kind of stopped raining and was just kind of a drizzle so it wasn’t too bad.”
Michigan State forced two Minnesota turnovers and now has forced nine turnovers in three Big Ten games. Michigan State is 60-12 under Dantonio when forcing at least two turnovers.
… Michigan State held Minnesota to a season-low 74 yards rushing. The Spartans have held three opponents to less than 100 yards rushing this season.
… The weather delay was the second in the history of TCF Bank Stadium, the last coming in 2014.
… Michigan State’s 3:30 p.m. game next Saturday against Indiana will be televised by ABC.