Michigan State football is reeling after back-to-back lopsided losses against the first two Power Five teams the Spartans have faced. On Saturday, Minnesota was the better football team in every facet of the game, and hammered MSU to the tune of 31-7.
For the second straight week, the Spartans were stagnant on offense early in the game, which did their injury-riddled and struggling defense no favors. Michigan State falls to 2-2 overall and 0-1 in Big Ten play, with a tough road still ahead.
Our normal instant reaction to games involves three positive and three negative takeaways from each game but, to be honest, we struggled to find much positive from today's game. With that said, here's what stood out...
1.) Payton Thorne's worst game as a Spartan
After seeing a faction of MSU's fanbase start calling for the backup quarterback this week, I went to bat and adamantly defended Payton Thorne in a column on Friday.
Then, Thorne went out there today and made me look absolutely foolish. The redshirt junior was responsible for all three of the Spartans' turnovers against Minnesota, and played his worst game in a Green and White uniform.
In the second quarter, Thorne stared down Keon Coleman on 4th-and-4 and was intercepted after trying to force the ball into traffic. That ended an MSU drive around midfield. Then, on the Spartans' first drive of the second half, Michigan State moved the ball inside the Gophers' 10 yard line before Thorne fumbled on a read-option keeper with goal-to-go.
The cherry on top came later in the third quarter, with MSU already trailing 24-0. The Spartans attempted a screen pass to tailback Jalen Berger, but Thorne threw the ball much too flat and a Minnesota defensive end just stuck his hand out and reeled in the pass with one hand for Michigan State's third turnover.
I've defended Thorne early this season, but it's time to stop making excuses for the redshirt junior after today's performance.
2.) Minnesota offensive moves the ball at will
Michigan State's defense offered no resistance for the Gophers throughout the game. Minnesota was balanced with its play-calling throughout the game, and methodically moved the ball at will against the Spartans.
The Golden Gophers finished with 510 yards of total offense (268 passing, 242 rushing) and held the ball for over 42 minutes of game action. The Spartans could not get off the field on third down, allowing Minnesota to convert on 10-of-12 third down plays.
Michigan State simply could not get off the field. The Golden Gophers did not punt, and the only two Minnesota drives that didn't end with points were after a fumble in the second quarter, and when the first half ended.
The Spartans' run defense, which had been the strength of the unit, allowed U-M's Mo Ibrahim to rush for 103 yards. That snaps a streak of 16 games in which MSU hadn't allowed a 100-yard rusher. Minnesota finished with 242 rushing yards and averaged 5.1 yards per carry.
MSU had no answers defensively today.
3.) Michigan State's run game nonexistant again
After beating up on Western Michigan and Akron with their run game, Michigan State has not been able to produce anything on the ground against either Washington or Minnesota.
Today, the Spartans had just 38 rushing yards and averaged 2.7 yards per carry. Even adjusting for the sack-yardage, MSU averaged just 3.5 yards per carry on the day for a total of 46.
Jarek Broussard got the start today at tailback after Jalen Berger was banged up a bit last week. Broussard had 23 yards on six carries, while Berger added 13 yards on four carries. Michigan State's offensive line was a major question mark this offseason, and it's clear the Spartans don't have the talent up front to go toe-to-toe with the Big Ten's best in the trenches.
I'm not going to waste your time as a reader here. There weren't many positives to take away from this game, and I'd be doing you a disservice trying to come up with three.
That being said, safety Kendal Brooks deserves a nod for the way he has filled in for injured starter Xavier Henderson. Brooks led MSU today with 18 tackles. Additionally, Jacoby Windmon continued to be a playmaker for the Spartans' defense. The senior transfer from UNLV has 5.5 sacks on the season, and he was the guy who forced Minnesota's fumble.
Finally, Noah Kim came in on Michigan State's final offensive possession and led the Spartans down the field for a touchdown. Kim delivered a perfect ball up the right sideline to Germie Bernard for a 27-yard score with less than 30 seconds left. That will only add to the voices calling for Kim to supplant Thorne as MSU's starting quarterback.