Gophers Cruise by Michigan State 41-18
Saturday, November 12, 2005

In a matchup of high-powered offenses, each averaging more than 500 yards per game, the Minnesota Gophers beat the Michigan State Spartans, 41-18.

Michigan State has relied on the passing of quarterback Drew Stanton, who was unable to reach the end zone for first three quarters against Minnesota. Hindered by dropped passes, penalties, and missed field goals, the Spartans had only a field goal until the fourth quarter. By that time, not only was Minnesota was in control of the game, the Gophers were able to respond to each of Michigan State’s touchdowns with a score of their own. “Fortunately for us,” said Gophers coach Glen Mason, “every time Michigan State did something positive, we were able to counter.”

Michigan State actually had more yards from scrimmage than Minnesota (457 to 450). However, Spartans coach John L. Smith lamented, “We were unable to gain confidence. They outflanked us and kicked our tail.”

Minnesota’s offense has relied on the running game. Coming into the game, Gary Russell needed 118 yards to give the Gophers a pair of 1,000-yard rushers for three consecutive years (Laurence Maroney and Marion Barber the last two years, and Maroney and Russell this year).

Russell would get his chances to carry the ball and Maroney, still nursing a bad ankle, did not play. However, Russell was hit hard on a pass play by Spartans safety Eric Smith. He returned later in the drive and scored his second touchdown of the game, which gave Minnesota a 21-3 lead.

But Russell did not play at all in the second half, creating an opportunity for Amir Pinnix, who finished with 206 yards on 32 carries. Mason said that at halftime Russell had been cleared by to play by the team doctors. Mason was still concerned about Russell, who couldn’t remember the play he had been hit on. “By the time he said, ‘Hey, coach, I’m ready to go,’ I said, ‘We don’t need you.’” Russell had 85 yards rushing, leaving him 33 short of 1,000.

Mason said he had told Pinnix earlier in the season, “Good things happen to good people,” acknowledging that “sometimes it’s frustrating for those young guys who know they have the ability and are dying to play, and they go out and work their tail off, and they’re sitting behind two other good running backs. . . . If you hang in there, sooner or later you’ll get an opportunity. The worst thing about it is if a kid doesn’t keep a great attitude, he gets an opportunity and the opportunity goes right by because he’s not ready for it.”

The outstanding performance of still another Gopher runner emphasized the role of Minnesota’s heralded offensive line, consisting of tackles Steve Shidell and Tony Brinkhaus, guards Mark Setterstrom and Mike Nicholson, and center Greg Eslinger. “They’re awfully good,” said Mason. “What’s special is they’re good together. The whole is better than the parts.”

Seniors Nicholson, Setterstrom, and Eslinger were among 16 Gophers playing their final home game. Mason pointed out that not only will the other two linemen be back, junior Joe Ainslie—who lost his starting position to Shidell after a hand injury early in the season—will give them three returning tackles.

The Gophers got off to a fast start, driving 77 yards for a touchdown. The big play came on a third-and-nine on Bryan Cupito’s swing pass to Russell, who turned it into a 56-yard gain to the Spartan 9 yard line. Three plays later, Russell got the touchdown on a one-yard run.

The teams exchanged punts before the Spartans started a drive that reached the Minnesota 11. On a 28-yard field-goal attempt, Matt Haughey’s kick was low and was blocked at the line by Willie VanDeSteeg.

The Spartans got a field goal early in the second quarter, but the Gophers came back with a touchdown drive. On a third-and-goal from the 4, the Minnesota line went right while tight end Matt Spaeth went left and found himself all alone to take Cupito’s pass.

Minnesota’s next scoring drive, capped by Russell’s one-yard run, took up more than seven minutes as they covered 73 yards in 18 plays. The Spartans then drove inside Minnesota’s 25 yard line, but a holding penalty left them with a 51-yard field goal attempt at the end of the half. Mark Losli got a hand on another low kick by Haughey, and the Gophers had a 21-3 lead at halftime.

The Gophers, now 4-3 in the Big Ten and 7-3 overall, complete their conference season at Iowa. The Spartans, whose four wins to start the season included an overtime victory over Notre Dame, are now 2-5 in the Big Ten, 5-5 overall, and will need a win at home over Penn State to become eligible for a bowl game.

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