It wasn't pretty, but Michigan State eked out a close victory at Minnesota on Saturday night, 30-27.
The Spartans were in the driver's seat all game long, but then the fourth quarter happened. Demry Croft replaced Conor Rhoda at quarterback for Minnesota (3-3, 0-3 Big Ten) to start the half and played well. He led three touchdown drives for the Gophers in the fourth quarter to make the game interesting.
Croft finished with 163 yards and three touchdowns on 11-of-20 completions. His favorite receiver, Tyler Johnson, finished with eight catches for 106 yards and all three scores.
LJ Scott was the workhorse for the Spartans on a night when Michigan State (5-1, 3-0) didn't want to air it out much. In cold, windy and rainy conditions, the Spartans kept to the ground and he gained a career-high 194 yards and two touchdowns on 25 carries.
Michigan State will host Indiana next Saturday afternoon for homecoming.
Michigan State hangs on
After recovering the onside kick, the Spartans just needed two kneel-downs to put the game in the books.
Minnesota pulls within three
Demry Croft nearly threw a crucial interception to start the drive before completing a short pass to set up third-and-four. He then threw an incompletion to force a fourth down and he came up big with a 22-yard completion to Mark Williams into Michigan State territory. Croft scrambled on a second-and-long and looked to be running toward the sideline, but juked Justin Layne out and picked up 20 yards and a first down.
The pressure seemed to be getting to Croft, but he kept completing short passes which got the Gophers into a first-and-goal position. Croft then hit Tyler Johnson for the third touchdown of the fourth quarter.
Spartans shoot themselves in foot
Minnesota attempted an onside kick, but Khari Willis gobbled it up. Another strong run on first down by LJ Scott set up a first down at the Minnesota 21. He was approaching 200 rushing yards at this point. Michigan State rushed for a game-clinching first down, but it was called back because of an alleged hold to set up a third-and-22. Scott took a draw up the middle to gain a handful of yards and set up a 45-yard field goal for Matt Coghlin, which he missed.
Gophers find end zone again
A muffed snap by Demry Croft to start the drive led to a Chris Frey sack. He then scrambled for 12 yards to set up a short first-down pass to Tyler Johnson. Later in the drive, Croft found Johnson again on a crossing route for a touchdown.
Heyward sets up Scott score
Connor Heyward took the kickoff all the way to Minnesota's 45-yard line and Michigan State chipped away with 10-plus yard runs, capped off by an LJ Scott touchdown, redeeming himself after a fumble.
Minnesota scores TD after MSU fumble
After nearly fumbling on first down, Minnesota got on the board for the first time of the half thanks to great field position from an LJ Scott cough-up. Demry Croft hit Tyler Johnson for 28 yards and the Gophers' first score to pull within 10.
LJ Scott fumbles
After picking up decent yardage on first down, LJ Scott fumbled on second down. He proved his issues are still prevalent.
Gophers struggle on offense
Minnesota ran the final play of the third quarter and picked up 11 yards on a Rodney Smith rush up the middle. However, they couldn't go much further and punted again.
Spartans march down field, melt clock
Madre London rushed for three yards to start the drive and Brian Lewerke threw an incompletion to the flat to force third-and-seven. He then hit Hunter Rison for a 17-yard pass for a first down. Darrell Stewart caught a 25-yard pass, tip-toeing the sideline. A couple of short runs by London led to third-and-five and Lewerke then ran an option for a first down. A few plays later, Michigan State went for it on fourth-and-one and Lewerke ran a QB sneak, falling forward for about three yards. Michigan State spent its first timeout.
London took a toss play to the left side and gained nine yards to the Minnesota 4-yard line. Another crucial mistake on the offensive line on third-and-one led to a false start which cost the Spartans an easy touchdown. On third-and-six, the Spartans inexplicably ran the ball on a pitch to the short side of the field. Matt Coghlin drilled another field goal to make it 23-6 Michigan State.
Gophers can't get offense going
Starting with field position on their own 27, Demry Croft nearly threw an interception on the first play, but completed a 5-yard pass on the second play. On third-and-five, Croft threw a long incompletion into coverage. The Gophers would punt to Michigan State's end zone for a touchback.
Michigan State nets field goal to start half
After receiving the ball to start the second half, LJ Scott rushed for 11 yards on the first play and two plays later, Brian Lewerke found Felton Davis III for 14 yards. Scott then rushed for 33 yards to the Minnesota 17 a few plays later, but Michigan State couldn't reach the end zone. Matt Coghlin set up for a 35-yard field goal and nailed it to give Michigan State a 20-6 lead.
Minnesota lets clock wind in first half
Minnesota started at its own 20-yard line, but a couple of runs by Rodney Smith didn't go anywhere, leading to halftime with the Spartans up 17-6.
Lewerke nearly turns it over again
Madre London started the drive in the backfield and added a couple of nice runs and then caught a pass for five yards to force a third-and-two. A false start by freshman Jordan Reid ruined any easy chance for a first down. Brian Lewerke then threw a questionable pass into double-coverage which was almost picked off on third down. Jake Hartbarger punted and it resulted in a touchback.
Croft throws pick on his first drive
Demry Croft replaced Conor Rhoda to start the drive and made a couple of solid completions for 27 yards, but on a third-down pass, Raequan Williams got pressure on him and hit his arm on a throw to force an interception, caught by Khari Willis.
Spartans forced to punt after decent drive
A facemask by the Golden Gophers on a short first-down run by LJ Scott gave the Spartans the ball at the 26. A play-action, reminiscent of the one that score a touchdown against Michigan last week, went for 26 yards from Brian Lewerke to Scott. A pitch play to Scott into a sea of Gophers on third down led to a fourth down and a punt by Jake Hartbarger. Dominique Long tried to catch the ball, resulting in a kick-catch interference.
Minnesota forced to punt again
Shannon Brooks had a mental lapse by catching the kickoff at his own 2-yard line and his knee touched the turf right when he fielded it. Conor Rhoda bailed the Gophers out with a nice 17-yard play-action completion to Tyler Johnson. On a third-and-eight, Rhoda completed a short pass, but came just three yards short of a first at the 50-yard line. Michigan State would start at its own 10-yard line after a Minnesota punt.
LJ Scott reels off 24-yard TD run
Connor Heyward returned the ball to Michigan State's 38-yard line and trucked Minnesota punter Ryan Santoso in the process. A few decent LJ Scott runs put the ball in Minnesota territory. Brian Lewerke scrambled for about three yards and then a false start on Scott set up a second-and-12. Lewerke then hit for 21 yards down to the Minnesota 30 for a first down, ending the first quarter.
Scott started the second quarter with a 6-yard run and then reeled off a 24-yard touchdown run to give the Spartans a 17-6 lead.
Rhoda overthrows open receiver
After getting the ball in Michigan State territory again, Minnesota gained five yards on first and second down combined and then Conor Rhoda over-threw an open receiver near the end zone. Emmit Carpenter nailed a 46-yard field goal to pull within four, 10-6.
Brian Lewerke throws pick
Brian Lewerke had a lapse in judgement on the first play of the Spartans' drive, throwing an interception. Minnesota took over at Michigan State's 34-yard line.
Gophers finally gain positive yardage
The Gophers got their biggest gain of the night on a short swing pass from Conor Rhoda to Shannon Brooks for 21 yards on the second play of the drive. Rhoda was pressured later on a third-and-11 and was forced to throw the ball away. Michigan State would get the ball at its own 23 after a Minnesota punt.
Madre London gives Michigan State lead
Two straight run plays for seven yards led to a short touchdown run to the left side of the field on a sweep with Madre London. The Spartans took a 10-3 lead with 6:25 left in the first quarter.
Minnesota coughs ball up
After a long incomplete pass by Conor Rhoda on first down, a failed sweep attempt to Shannon Brooks led to a fumble and Michigan State's Kenny Willekes recovered at the Gophers' 7-yard line.
LJ Scott has strong drive to lead to tying FG
LJ Scott had his first drive since the Iowa game and looked strong, picking up __ yards. Brian Lewerke hit Hunter Rison on a quick slant on third down in Minnesota territory to put the Spartans within field goal range. On the next third down pass, Darrell Stewart dropped a first down pass. Matt Coghlin then drilled a career-long 42-yard field goal to knot the game up, 3-3.
Gophers can't reach end zone, settle for field goal
Minnesota began the drive inside Michigan State's 5-yard line, but couldn't get anything going on offense and settled for a chip-shot field goal to take an early 3-0 lead.
Michigan State fumbles
Madre London carried for about seven yards on the first play for the Spartans, but a muffed snap and an incompletion led to a three-and-out for Michigan State. Jake Hartbarger then fumbled the punt snap and the Gophers recovered inside Michigan State's 5-yard line.
Minnesota starts with a three-and-out
After about a 45-minute delay, Minnesota received to start the rain-soaked game. The Gophers got seven yards on two carries by Rodney Smith, but Conor Rhoda threw an incompletion on third-and-short. Minnesota would punt to Michigan State's 26-yard line.
Michigan State, Minnesota in rain delay
After seeing lightning on the radar, Minnesota delayed the start of Saturday night's game until 8:44 p.m. ET.
Michigan State tackles Minnesota in a primetime game on Saturday in Minneapolis. Follow the action here with live updates throughout the game by Connor Muldowney.
MICHIGAN STATE VS. MINNESOTA
When: Saturday, 8 p.m.
Where: TCF Bank Stadium, Minneapolis
TV/radio: BTN/WJR 760
Records: Michigan State 4-1, Minnesota 3-2
Line: Michigan State by 4