Minnesota found life on offense against Michigan State, but it came a little too late. The Gophers scored 21 points in the fourth quarter, but the comeback fell short as the Spartans held on to win 30-27.
The Gophers were rather listless for the majority of the first three quarters, unable to get in the end zone while struggling to contain Michigan State running back L.J. Scott, who had 194 yards on 25 rushes with two touchdowns.
In an attempt to spark the offense on a rainy night, head coach P.J. Fleck benched quarterback Conor Rhoda late in the second quarter and went with Demry Croft, playing for the first time since Sept. 9.
Croft would complete 11 of 20 passes for 163 yards and three touchdowns, all to Tyler Johnson, and ran for 31 yards, including an impressive first-down run on third-and-16, faking a defender out by pretending to head out of bounds then juking up field.
But the rally came too late. An onside kick with just over a minute left got a good bounce, but Michigan State was able to snag it and keep Minnesota winless in Big Ten play.
Here's a recap of Saturday night's game (Story | Photos):
PLAYER OF THE GAME
There's certainly no question that Tyler Johnson is Minnesota's No. 1 receiver. Johnson caught eight passes -- the rest of the team combined had eight receptions -- for 106 yards and three scores. His first touchdown came when he bobbled a pass over the middle a couple of times, then making it into the end zone while being tackled. On his second TD, he dove into the end zone for the score. And despite all this, he still managed to get open for touchdown No. 3. The three touchdowns were the most for a Gopher since tight end Maxx Williams had three vs. Iowa on Nov. 8, 2014 and the most for a wide receiver since A.J. Barker's three against Western Michigan on Sept. 15, 2012. It was the eighth time since 2000 a Minnesota player has had three or more TD receptions in a game.
DON'T FORGET ABOUT ME
Minnesota could have used more stops but it's hard to blame Thomas Barber. The linebacker had a career-high 16 tackles -- no one on the team had more combined tackles than his nine solo stops -- with two tackles for loss and a fumble recovery.
Early in the first quarter, Minnesota had a chance to steal momentum but couldn't capitalize. Michigan State's punter botched a snap, with the Gophers set up in prime territory at the Spartans' 3-yard line. But Conor Rhoda dropped the snap and lost yards on the first play then threw two passes out of the end zone and Minnesota had to settle for an Emmit Carpenter 25-yard field goal. A touchdown would have been big (especially based on the final score) but instead Michigan State got an emotional boost plus it was an early indication of how the offense would fizzle for much of the contest.
163 -- Demry Croft's passer rating. We gave Croft's numbers above, but his passer rating is noteworthy as well. It marks the highest rating for a Minnesota quarterback vs. an FBS opponent (minimum 10 pass attempts) since Mitch Leidner's 163.17 at Iowa on Nov. 14, 2015. Perhaps Minnesota has solved its quarterback quandary?
THEY SAID IT
"That was the team I couldn't wait to see. I couldn't wait. Running good routes. Creating good plays." -- head coach P.J. Fleck on the last 10 minutes of the game.
"It was a blessed feeling being out there with the guys. You’ve got to prepare every game like you’re going to get in. That’s how I approached it." -- QB Demry Croft.
"Crazy game. I thought we had the game in place, where we needed to be in the fourth quarter. Minnesota does a great job coming back." -- Michigan State head coach Mark Dantonio.
Jesse JohnsonUSA TODAY Sports
It's another home game for Minnesota as Illinois (2-4, 0-3 Big Ten) comes to town. The Illini have lost four straight, including falling 35-24 at home to conference doormat Rutgers on Saturday.