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The Sports Xchange, Published November 30 2013

Michigan State completes perfect Big Ten season with win over Gophers

EAST LANSING Mich. – Michigan State didn’t get the prettiest offensive performance in its season finale, but its No. 1-ranked defense continued to make the other team’s offense look unsightly and the Spartans will head to the Big Ten championship game brimming with confidence.

For the sixth time this season, No. 11 Michigan State held an opponent without a touchdown as it completed a perfect Big Ten schedule with a 14-3 victory over the Minnesota Gophers on Saturday afternoon at Spartan Stadium.

Tailback Jeremy Langford gained 134 yards on 21 carries and scored the first touchdown for the Spartans (11-1, 8-0), who already had clinched the Legends Division championship. Michigan State will play Ohio State for the conference title next Saturday night in Indianapolis.

“You’re going to have games where you have to reach back and scratch and dig for things,” Spartans coach Mark Dantonio said. “We were able to do that today. We have great senior leadership and we win because of chemistry.”

Michigan State’s unbeaten conference season was the third in school history and first since the Big Ten expanded to eight games.

The Spartans had scored at least 29 points in the previous four games. But quarterback Connor Cook completed just 10 of 20 passes and threw an ill-advised interception in the closing moments of the first half.

“We scored 14 points and the way we were moving the ball, you would have thought we’d have scored a lot more,” Cook said. “It was a stupid mental errors on my part, not putting us in the best situations, stuff I really haven’t been doing all year. So you look at a game like this and say, ‘Dang, we could have been a lot better.’ Our best offensive performance is still yet to come and hopefully we’ll get that this Saturday.”

Cornerback Trae Waynes sparked the Spartans’ defense with his first two career interceptions. MSU also forced a fumble and had 11 tackles for loss.

It was the kind of dominating effort that gives them plenty of hope in their second trip to Indianapolis in three years. They suffered a narrow loss to Wisconsin two seasons ago.

“Everybody sets goals for themselves, and that’s a goal we have not yet accomplished,” Dantonio said. “That’s our No. 1 goal, to be outright Big Ten champions. Obviously, getting to the Rose Bowl is something we’ve aspired to since we set foot on this campus in 1995 (as Nick Saban’s assistant).”

Tailback David Cobb had 101 rushing yards on 27 carries for the Gophers (8-4, 4-4), who finished the season with two losses after a four-game conference winning streak. They won the time-of-possession battle by more than 17 minutes but couldn’t finish drives.

“That’s what we had to do to win the game,” Minnesota coach Jerry Kill said. “We had to shorten the game and we had to keep it close. I said it would come down to a field goal or something of that nature to win it. We missed a field goal and then we had several opportunities inside the 30 and came away with nothing.”

Tight end Josiah Price scored his third touchdown of the season on a 12-yard pass from Cook, finishing off MSU’s 75-yard drive to open the second half. Cook completed three passes for 47 yards to wide receiver Tony Lippett to set up the score, making it 14-3.

The Gophers drove to the MSU 11 on their initial second-half possession but a sack set them back and Chris Hawthorne missed a 38-yard field goal try.

Minnesota squandered another scoring chance with less than five minutes remaining when quarterback Mitch Leidner fumbled while getting sacked and defensive end Denzel Drone recovered the ball. Leidner replaced Philip Nelson, who left the game during the second half with a head injury.

“Michigan State is going to hit you all the time,” Kill said. “They hit you as soon as you get off the bus. They’re physical and put some pressure on the quarterback. They’ve done it to every quarterback.”

Langford scored on the Spartans’ first possession with a 15-yard run, completing an 80-yard drive. They were silenced the rest of the half as MSU clung to a 7-3 lead at halftime.

Minnesota 0 3 0 0 – 3

Michigan St. 7 0 7 0 – 14

First Quarter

MSU – Langford 15 run (Geiger kick), 8:20.

Second Quarter

Minn – FG Hawthorne 21, 3:49.

Third Quarter

MSU – Price 12 pass from Cook (Geiger kick), 12:20.

A – 71,418.

Minn MSU

First downs 17 15

Rushes-yards 50-124 31-181

Passing 125 143

Comp-Att-Int 9-25-2 10-20-1

Return Yards 15 40

Punts-Avg. 5-47.2 6-41.8

Fumbles-Lost 1-1 1-1

Penalties-Yards 3-14 2-15

Time of Possession 38:41 21:19

INDIVIDUAL STATISTICS

RUSHING: Minnesota, Cobb 27-101, M.Williams 1-7, Nelson 4-7,

Kirkwood 7-7, D.Jones 2-2, Mi.Leidner 8-2, Team 1-(minus 2).

Michigan St., Langford 21-134, Burbridge 1-35, Hill 4-23,

D.Williams 1-6, Shelton 1-4, Cook 3-(minus 21).

PASSING: Minnesota, Nelson 6-18-2-77, Mi.Leidner 3-7-0-48.

Michigan St., Cook 10-20-1-143.

RECEIVING: Minnesota, Wolitarsky 3-56, D.Jones 3-47,

M.Williams 1-11, Fruechte 1-9, Henry 1-2. Michigan St., Lippett 4-71,

Burbridge 2-12, Kings 1-24, Fowler 1-15, Price 1-12, Langford 1-9.