It was a very interesting night at TCF Bank Stadium. The game was postponed about 45 minutes because of lightning near campus, so it was an odd start. The ball was fumbled twice within the first couple minutes. You knew it was going to be one of those games.
The conditions were good for an old-school Big Ten brawl.
The Gophers started the game with Conor Rhoda but he continued to struggle, going 5/12 for 53 yards and 0 TD’s. He was finally replaced at the end of the first half, in favor of Demry Croft. Croft looked pretty good right away, completing a 21 yard pass to everyone’s favorite receiver, Tyler Johnson, out of Minneapolis North (more on him later). Unfortunately, the drive ended with an interception, but the whole offense looked more confident with Croft on the field.
The Gophers trailed 17-6, entering halftime. Their only two scores came from Emmit Carpenter field goals.
By the time the two teams both had 2 possessions in the 2nd half, the Spartans were leading 23-6 after they drove down for two field goals, while forcing the Gophers to punt twice. Things looked like they were about to get out of hand. The Gophers, however, had a different mindset.
After giving the ball back to Michigan State to start the 4th quarter, (SO) Thomas Barber (Marion Barber III younger brother) recovered a fumble, forced by Steven Richardson, and the tide started to turn. After Shannon Brooks recovered his own fumble on the first carry of the drive, Demry Croft hit Tyler Johnson in the end zone for Tyler’s first TD of this game.
With the score now 23-13, with 12 minutes left to play, the Gophers were right back in it. But then, the defense let Sparty drive all the way down the field and put up 7 points of their own. The Gophers were now staring at another 17 point deficit with just 10:15 remaining. At least they let them do it fast, right?…
But the Gophers struck again. The drive took longer than they wanted, lasting about 5 minutes of gameplay. Croft showed what he can do throughout the drive, accounting for 57 of the 61 yards, with 19 of those yards coming on the ground. Croft’s running ability is a skill he possesses that Rhoda doesn’t. He hit Johnson 2 more times on the drive, the second of which was another TD, making the score 30-20.
At this point, there was a little over 5 minutes on the clock and the Gophers were down 2 scores. They went for the onside kick but failed, giving the ball back to the Spartans with a bleak outlook on the rest of the game. But again, the Gophers weren’t done.
Michigan State busted the first play of the drive for a big 22 yard run and Minnesotans were shutting off their TV’s. But after a couple stopped runs and a holding penalty, the Spartans were lining up for a field goal that they would miss. Down 10, the Gophers would get the ball back with just 3:01 left to play.
Demry Croft was cool again, leading the team down the field. He had to use all aspects of his game again, avoiding pressure, running for a big 20 yard run on 3rd and 16, and hitting Shannon Brooks and Mark Williams for a big gains. But in the red zone who did he go to? You guessed it. Tyler Johnson for their 3rd TD connection of the night, making it a 30-27 game with just 1:06 left on the clock.
It came down to another onside kick. This one looked better, but failed again. Demry Croft’s 4th quarter magic wasn’t quite enough to win this game but it was DEFINITELY enough to get Minnesota excited about the idea of his takeover at the QB position.
FINAL: MICHIGAN STATE def. GOPHERS: 30-27
Watch highlights from tonight’s game. pic.twitter.com/3OZAKqkp1n
— Minnesota Football (@GopherFootball) October 15, 2017
Well, the Gophers are now 0-3 in the Big Ten and they did NOT get the start they were looking for. Their best shot for victory is next week against Illinois, at TCF Bank. I would expect Demry Croft to be the new leader of this team and remain under center for the rest of the season.
The offense looked like an entirely different unit in the 2nd half and especially the 4th quarter, after Croft and the first team got some time to gel together. They actually threw the ball. Granted, they were facing a big deficit. Still, when Rhoda has had to throw this season, he hasn’t been able to. During the entire Big Ten season, the Gophers have faced 8-9 man boxes, making the run game look anemic at times. There was no pass threat.
If Croft can make the defense think twice about what the Gophers’ offense might be doing, the running backs could start to be who we thought they were (say it in a Dennis Green voice). Demry is only a Sophomore so it will be fun to watch him try and grow quickly into his new role. With QB recruits coming through the pipeline (Armstrong, Morgan, 2019 Recruits) that were chosen by Fleck. His window to prove himself could be short-lived.
— Andy Greder (@andygreder) October 15, 2017