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Saturday, November 24, 2012
Spartans defense, Bell lift team to bowl

By Adam Rittenberg

Michigan State's defense decided enough was enough. So did Le'Veon Bell.

Had the season been a massive disappointment? Check. Had the lack of a Big Ten home win surprised everyone? Check. Had the number of near misses been infuriating for all involved? Check.

But the Spartans weren't about to miss out on a bowl game. No way. A 6-6 season would be salvaged, end of discussion.

Michigan State's defenders and Bell made sure of it in a 26-10 victory against Minnesota at TCF Bank Stadium. The Spartans (6-6, 3-5 Big Ten) ensured they'll be going bowling for the sixth consecutive season under head coach Mark Dantonio, while Minnesota (6-6, 2-6) also is headed to the postseason despite dropping its last two games.

Gophers coach Jerry Kill didn't return to the sideline for the second half. There's no definitive word whether Kill had another seizure, but we'll pass along any news as it comes in.

Michigan State's defense turned in its most dominant effort of the season, surrendering 96 total yards, four net rush yards, seven first downs and just three points. Minnesota's only touchdown came from linebacker Aaron Hill on a pick-six of Andrea Maxwell.

Pat Narduzzi's crew was fabulous.

Bell, meanwhile, continued to carry the Michigan State offense -- quite literally -- piling up a career-high 266 rush yards and a touchdown on 35 carries. He recorded his third 200-yard rushing effort of the season and his sixth game of more than 30 carries. As bad as Michigan State's offense has been, think of where it would be without Bell.

About the only other offensive contribution the Spartans got came on a deflected pass intended for Tony Lippett that Bennie Fowler caught and ran into the end zone late in the first half.

Kicker Dan Conroy also made an impact, tying his career high with four field goals (48 yards, 43 yards, 43 yards, 30 yards). Although Michigan State's struggles in plus territory continued, the team didn't need many points Saturday.

Minnesota's defense kept it in the game, and the Gophers recorded two interceptions against Maxwell. But Nelson appears to be hitting a wall, and he needed a lot more help from the run game than he received today. Fortunately, Minnesota will have bowl practices to improve, and we hope Kill is OK.

Michigan State didn't expect to be here, squeaking into a bowl. All three of the Spartans' Big Ten wins came on the road, which could bode well as they'll play their bowl game away from East Lansing.

The offense needs a lot of work between now and late December, when Michigan State likely faces a Big 12 team in the Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl.

But Dantonio has to be pleased his team found a way, thanks to Bell, Conroy and the defense.