EAST LANSING, Mich. (AP) — It’s been quite a season for coach Jerry Kill’s Minnesota team, but the Golden Gophers showed these last couple weeks that they’re still a step behind the top teams in the Big Ten.
Jeremy Langford ran for 134 yards and a touchdown, and No. 11 Michigan State wrapped up an unbeaten regular season in Big Ten play with a 14-3 victory over Minnesota on Saturday. The Gophers lost to Wisconsin 20-7 the previous weekend. They didn’t score an offensive touchdown against the Badgers or the Spartans.
“They’re both physical football teams and they’re both very good football teams,” Kill said. “I’ve got a great deal of respect for both.”
The Spartans (11-1, 8-0) finished a perfect Big Ten regular season for only the third time. They also did it in 1965 and 1966, when they only had to play seven conference games.
Michigan State will face Ohio State in the Big Ten championship game next weekend. The Spartans had already wrapped up the Legends Division title, but there was no letdown against Minnesota (8-4, 4-4).
“It was a physical football game,” Kill said. “I thought we physically played hard, defensively played good, and offensively we moved the ball. We just didn’t finish drives.”
Minnesota awaits its bowl matchup now, after winning eight games for the first time since its 2003 team went 10-3.
The Spartans’ top-ranked defense forced three turnovers and kept the Golden Gophers out of the end zone, repeating a formula that has brought Michigan State within a win of the Rose Bowl.
“Everybody sets goals for themselves, and that’s a goal that we’ve not yet accomplished,” Michigan State coach Mark Dantonio said. “So that’s the No. 1 goal, to be outright Big Ten champion, and the way the format is structured now, would be something that would be very important to this program. Obviously, to get to the Rose Bowl is something that we’ve aspired to since the day we set foot on this campus.”
The Spartans took the lead right away Saturday on Langford’s 15-yard touchdown run in the first quarter, which capped a seven-play, 80-yard drive. Minnesota’s Philip Nelson attempted only seven passes in the first half, and two of them were picked off by Michigan State’s Trae Waynes, but the Spartans struggled to extend the lead.
Chris Hawthorne’s 21-yard field goal made it 7-3, and the Spartans missed a chance to score at the end of the half when Connor Cook was intercepted at the Minnesota 24 by Derrick Wells in the final seconds.
Michigan State went 75 yards in eight plays to start the third quarter and led 14-3 after Cook’s 12-yard scoring pass to Josiah Price.
Minnesota had a chance to get back in the game in the fourth when backup quarterback Mitch Leidner directed a drive deep into Michigan State territory. But Leidner was sacked and fumbled, and the Spartans recovered at their own 14 with 4:45 to play.
Minnesota’s David Cobb ran for 101 yards, not a bad day against a Michigan State team ranked No. 1 in the nation in total defense. But Nelson went 6 of 18 for 77 yards, and Leidner was 3 of 7 for 48 yards.
“It makes it tough moving around in the pocket when you’ve got guys flying all around you,” Leidner said. “Credit to them. They got great pressure on us. At the same time, our offensive line played great all day. Both Phil and I have to make throws.”
Cook went 10 of 20 for 143 yards with an interception.
Michigan State held an opponent without a touchdown for the fifth time in the last six games. The Spartans won despite minimal contributions from the offense. Michigan State went 0 for 8 on third down.
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