Gophers beat Spartans in bizarre game

November, 1, 2009
11/01/09
12:12
AM ET
Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg

A Halloween filled with surprises in the Big Ten ended with the most bizarre game of the season.

Minnesota held off Michigan State 42-34 to provide a big boost to its bowl hopes and energize a season that had lost steam following consecutive blowout losses and the season-ending injury to star wide receiver Eric Decker. The Golden Gophers not only showed they could win without Decker, but they had their best offensive performance of the season against a formidable Michigan State defense.

Now, let's get to the utter wackiness of this game.

Here's a few things to chew on:
  • Michigan State fell behind 14-0 without running an offensive play.
  • Minnesota won despite committing 17 penalties for 157 yards.
  • The game featured four touchdowns of 59 yards or longer.
  • Minnesota averaged 12.6 yards a play despite entering the game averaging a league-worst 5.1 yards per play.

It was fitting that the final score came when Gophers running back Duane Bennett caught a ball that popped in the air following a Nick Tow-Arnett reception and raced to the end zone. The play, which reminded some of the Immaculate Reception, put Minnesota ahead by eight with 6:04 remaining.

Just a hunch here, but Michigan State head coach Mark Dantonio won't be dressing up as an official for Halloween next year. After voicing his displeasure with two controversial calls in last week's loss to Iowa, Dantonio undoubtedly won't be pleased with several very, very questionable rulings in this one. Big Ten coordinator of football officials Bill Carollo will have a tough time reviewing this game.

Gophers quarterback Adam Weber passed for 416 yards and five touchdowns in the game, while Bennett and Tow-Arnett both caught two touchdowns. Credit Gophers offensive coordinator Jedd Fisch for an amazingly creative game plan, which would have put up more points if not for all the dumb penalties.

As for the Spartans, I felt they were the nation's best 4-4 team entering the game. But at some point, you are what you are, and Michigan State sits at 4-5 and in major danger of missing a bowl game. Michigan State struggled in the first half and endured several costly injuries, including a concussion to running back Larry Caper. Wide receiver Keshawn Martin exploded for two long touchdowns, but the defense really struggled for the most part. The Spartans need to win the next two weeks against Western Michigan and Purdue to have a chance at a bowl.

It's a huge win for Tim Brewster's crew in front of an electric crowd that featured several creative costumes. Minnesota really needed this, no matter how bizarre it turned out to be.

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