Gophers football vs. Michigan State: Keys to game, how to watch and who has edge

MINNESOTA at MICHIGAN STATE

When: 2:30 p.m. CT Saturday
Where: Spartan Stadium, East Lansing, Mich.
TV: BTN
Radio: KFAN, 100.3 FM
Weather: 59 degrees, cloudy, 8 mph north wind
Betting favorite: Minnesota, minus-3

Records: Minnesota is 3-0 after blowing out lackluster nonconfernece foes Colorado, New Mexico State and Western Illinois by a combined 149-17. Michigan State is 2-1 after beating Western Michigan and Akron by a combined 87-13. They were 11th in the Associated Press poll until a 39-28 loss at Washington last week and fell out of the ranking.

History: Minnesota has lost five straight to Michigan State since 2010. The U hasn’t traveled to East Lansing since 2013, when they lost 14-3. At Minnesota, head coach P.J. Fleck is 0-1 against the Spartans, falling 30-27 at home in 2017.

Key matchup: Gophers receivers vs. Spartans secondary. Minnesota will play the rest of the season without No. 1 wideout Chris Autman-Bell after he suffered a leg injury in the 49-7 win over Colorado. He led team with targets on 23 percent of passing plays. The remaining U pass catchers will have opportunities against a MSU pass defense ranked 103rd in the nation.

Who has the edge?

Gophers offense vs. Michigan State defense: After ranking dead last in the country in pass defense in 2021, the Spartans were better against two softer Group of Five opponents. Then the Pac-12’s Washington had big success with 397 yards and four touchdowns. The Gophers are running the ball on 70 percent of snaps, and MSU has been good against the rush (26th in country), so Saturday could hinge on Minnesota’s ability to have success through the air. … While the Gophers have allowed only two sacks through three games (both vs. Colorado), they have not faced DE Jacoby Windom, who has a Big Ten-leading 5 1/2 sacks on 12 pressures this season. The UNLV transfer “is going to be a pro,” Gophers offensive coordinator Kirk Ciarrocca and will need Minnesota’s best. … Spartans slot defender Chester Kimbrough has added two sacks this season. The Spartans did not get home against the Huskies. … RB Mo Ibrahim has 40 career rushing touchdowns and is one away from breaking a tie with Darrell Thompson for program record. Ibrahim averaging 1.3 rushing touchdowns pre game; Thompson averaged 0.9. Ibrahim has tied Thompson in 13 fewer games played. … The Gophers have thrown one interception on 68 attempts this season and it came on a tipped pass that should have been caught by TE Brevyn Spann-Ford. … Both teams are plus-1 in turnover margin on the season. EDGE: Michigan State 

Gophers defense vs. Michigan State offense: Minnesota has been suffocating this season, with only three points allowed by its starting defense through three games. (Backups account for the remaining 14 allowed.) The Spartans are averaging 38 points per game. … Minnesota is No. 1 on third down, allowing conversions only 12 percent of the time. MSU has converted on 46 percent.  “This week is going to be a tremendous challenge with this quarterback and these receivers,” defensive coordinator Joe Rossi said.  …  Under former Gophers offensive coordinator and Lakeville native Jay Johnson, QB Payton Thorne has seven TD passes this season. Thorne broke Kirk Cousin’s program record with 27 TD completions in a season in 2021. … The Gophers best defensive position group is its secondary and they will need to prove it Saturday. WR Jayden Reed missed the Washington game with an injury, but Rossi said they are preparing for him to play. He had 1,000 yards and 10 TDs a year ago. If Reed remains out, Keon Coleman and Tre Mosley can produce. They each have three TDs grabs this year. … Minnesota is No. 2 in nation in rush defense at 69.7 allowed per game, but Spartans come with a duo of tailbacks. Jalen Berger, a Wisconsin transfer, and Jarek Broussard, a Colorado transfer, have combined for 392 yards and six TDs through three games. EDGE: Gophers 

Special teams: Michigan State freshman K in Jack Stone is 1 for 2 with a make from 43 yards and miss from 44 yards.  … Gophers fifth-year senior K Matthew Trickett is 3 for 3 this year. EDGE: Gophers 

Prediction: The Gophers are 1-4 in Big Ten openers under P.J. Fleck, but this team has been all business in three dominate wins. This team will officially take pole position in Big Ten West with an opening victory on the road. Gophers, 27-23

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