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Detroit News scouting report: Michigan State football vs. Minnesota

Minnesota at Michigan State

Kickoff: 3:30 p.m. Saturday, Spartan Stadium, East Lansing

TV/radio: BTN/WJR 760

Line: Golden Gophers by 2½

Records: Minnesota 3-0, 0-0 Big Ten; Michigan State 2-1, 0-0 Big Ten

Series: Michigan State leads 30-17 (Last meeting: Oct. 14, 2017 — Michigan State 30, Minnesota 27)

Matt Charboneau of The Detroit News breaks down the Spartans’ Week 4 matchup with Minnesota.

Key matchup

MSU's defense vs. Minnesota offense

There’s no point in narrowing this down considering the way the Spartans played last week at Washington. The pass defense, as everyone knows, was awful, allowing 397 yards and four touchdowns to Huskies quarterback Michael Penix Jr. Those numbers were eye-opening enough, but the fact the Spartans had multiple breakdowns that left receivers wide open on multiple occasions is what is alarming in Year 3 under Mel Tucker and defensive coordinator Scottie Hazelton. It was reminiscent of some of the ugly losses from last year and does little to think things will change anytime soon.

And while the run defense has been good, the Spartans haven’t faced a rushing attack like the Golden Gophers have and could be without defensive tackle Jacob Slade for a second straight game. That will only make things harder as Michigan State looks to contain Mohamed Ibrahim, who is second in the nation in rushing yards per game at 154.7.

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If the Gophers do struggle to run the ball, it’s not like they have no other options. Yes, they lost wide receiver Chris Autman-Bell for the season to an injury, but sixth-year quarterback Tanner Morgan has plenty of weapons and playing on the road in a tough environment won’t bother the veteran signal caller. It all puts Minnesota in a good position to come into Spartan Stadium and take advantage of a defense that might be questioning itself while establishing itself as the team to beat in the Big Ten West.

Gophers to watch

Mohamed Ibrahim, RB: The Big Ten Running Back of the Year in 2020 is bouncing back after missing most of 2021 with an injury. In three games, Ibrahim has carried the ball 67 times for 464 yards and seven touchdowns despite not playing beyond the opening drive of the second half in any of the games. His seven rushing touchdowns leads the nation while he’s second in rushing yards and rushing yards per game (154.7). Ibrahim has 17 career 100-yard rushing games, including a streak of 12 in a row dating to the 2020 Outback Bowl, and he’s gone over the 200-yard mark a program-record four times.

Tanner Morgan, QB: In his fourth season as the Golden Gophers’ starter, Morgan has won more games than any quarterback in Minnesota history. He has a record of 30-12 as a starter, six more wins than the 24 victories by Mitch Leidner. He’s thrown for 8,690 yards and 60 touchdowns in his career and is completing 61.9% of his passes, the best in school history. This season, Morgan is 38-for-53 passing for 618 yards and four touchdowns with one interception. He's also added 25 rushing yards and a career-high three touchdowns on 10 carries.

Mariano Sori-Marin, LB: The fifth-year linebacker is the top returning tackler from last season and there has been little drop-off as Sori-Marin leads the Gophers with 16 tackles and has a team-best two tackles for loss and a pass breakup. Sori-Marin started 13 games last season and finished with 85 tackles, including 23 in a two-game stretch when he had 11 at Northwestern and 12 against Illinois. On the watch list for the 2022 Butkus Award, Sori-Marin also had five tackles for loss in 2021 as well as three pass breakups, two forced fumbles and an interception.

Facts and figures

▶ The Golden Gophers come into East Lansing ranked second in the nation in both total offense and total defense. The Gophers are averaging 554.7 yards of offense per game while allowing just 170.3 yards to their opponents. On the ground, Minnesota is second in the country at 312.7 yards a game and is giving up just 69.7 yards per game, good for ninth in the nation. Georgia is the only other program with its total offense (sixth) and total defense (14th) ranked in the top 15. And with 149 points scored and just 17 allowed, the team's scoring differential of plus-132 ranks second nationally behind only Michigan (plus-149).

▶ After beating up on its first three nonconference opponents — New Mexico State, Western Illinois and Colorado — Minnesota is shooting for a 4-0 start for the second time in six years under P.J. Fleck and the 36th time in program history. The Gophers matched that mark under Fleck in 2019 when they started 9-0. Dating back to last season, Minnesota has won six games in a row, tied with UCLA and Coastal Carolina for the third longest active winning streak in the country. Only Clemson (nine) and Kentucky (seven) have longer streaks.

▶ Minnesota is 63-55-8 all-time in Big Ten openers and is looking to snap a two-game losing streak in such games. The Golden Gophers are 1-4 in conference openers under Fleck and Saturday will be just the third time Minnesota opens conference play against Michigan State, also doing so in 1997 and 1953 with the Spartans winning both. Minnesota is 2-3 in Big Ten road openers under Fleck and this marks the fifth time that Michigan State has served as the Gophers' first league road game.

Twitter: @mattcharboneau