Minneapolis — For three quarters on Saturday night Michigan State’s defense was dominant.
For one quarter, it looked like it was playing on its heels.
The Spartans made enough plays throughout the game to come away with a 30-27 victory over the Golden Gophers at TCF Bank Stadium, however, those final 15 minutes didn’t sit well with sophomore linebacker Joe Bachie.
“It’s not acceptable by our defense,” Bachie said. “We’ve got to learn how to finish. We are a young team so it is a learning experience for us. We came out 1-0, though, this week so that is something to be happy about. But, like I said, we got to learn, and we have to finish games better.”
No. 21 Michigan State gave Minnesota no room to operate through the first three quarters, limiting the Gophers to six points, three coming after Michigan State botched the snap on the first punt of the game to give the Gophers the ball at the MSU 2.
But Minnesota made a quarterback switch from Conor Rhoda to Demry Croft late in the second quarter, and by early in the fourth it started to pay off as Croft was able to get out of the pocket and make things happen, throwing three touchdown passes to Tyler Johnson and nearly rallying Minnesota.
LJ Scott, Brian Lewerke, Joe Bachie, Madre London and Kenny Willekes on Michigan State's victory over Minnesota. Matt Charboneau, The Detroit News
The first game with 11:55 to play when Croft hit Johnson with a 28-yard score to make it 23-13 for Michigan State. The Spartans appeared to put the game away on the following drive when LJ Scott scored to make it 30-13.
However, the Gophers came right back with Croft hitting Johnson for a 17-yard touchdown pass with 5:20 to play. Minnesota missed on the onside kick, but after Michigan State missed a 45-yard field goal, Croft marched the Gophers again and found Johnson for a 9-yard touchdown with 1:06 to play.
“Most of the game and then poof. It was magic,” Michigan State coach Mark Dantonio said of Michigan State’s pass defense. “We had the guy doubled on the last touchdown and how he got open remains to be seen. It was a little ‘now you see him now you don’t,’ that coverage. But the things that hurt us are probably fixable but give credit to Minnesota and what they were able to do. They just kept playing.”
Croft finished 11-for-20 for 163 yards as Minnesota threw for 216 yards.
What the Gophers did not do well was run the ball. Michigan State held them to 74 yards, the third time this season the Spartans have held an opponent to fewer than 100 yards.
Linebacker Andrew Dowell and safety David Dowell had seven tackles each to lead the Spartans while Bachie had six tackles. Michigan State got to Croft a few times late and finished with a pair of sacks, one from Kenny Willekes and one from Chris Frey.
The defense was opportunistic once again, getting a fumble recovery from Willekes that set up the first touchdown, and an interception from Khari Willis.
“I thought he came in and played very well,” Dantonio said of Croft. “He made some things happen and we just made some plays, and he sort of got it going a little bit and got us on our heels a bit. But like I said we’ll take the win.
“We played very well up front. Our linebackers fit their gaps and we got guys in the right places, especially on the jet sweep. We did some stunts to change the gaps, but we’ve got guys up front that can hold the point.”