Bell of the Bowl
Spartans take down Minnesota behind strong output from junior running back
All season long, the Spartans couldn’t seem to catch a break.
There was a referee blowing a play dead against undefeated Ohio State that MSU should have been able to return for a touchdown, but instead lost by a point.
There were the controversial penalties on the game’s final drive against Nebraska, a drive the Cornhuskers converted for a heartbreaking touchdown with six seconds remaining.
Mark Dantonio said at the beginning of the week that it seemed as if it was one of those years where the bounces just wouldn’t go their way.
But on Saturday, the tide finally turned.
The MSU football team (6-6 overall, 3-5 Big Ten) used some fortunate bounces and dominating performances from their defense and junior running back Le’Veon Bell to overpower Minnesota (6-6, 2-6) 26-10 and clinch bowl eligibility.
Bell rushed for a career-high 266 yards with one touchdown on 35 carries for the sixth-greatest single game rushing output in MSU history.
Saturday’s game helped Bell finish the regular season with 1,648 rushing yards, the most rushing yards of any player in the Big Ten this regular season and the second-highest regular season total in MSU history.
In an interview on the Farm Bureau Insurance Spartan Postgame Show on 760-AM, Bell said it was a great accomplishment and agreed with his head coach that it was his best game as a Spartan.
“I felt good in the beginning of the game, during warm ups. I don’t know what it was. I felt good the whole game,” Bell said. “The offensive line did a great job opening up holes for me today, allowing me to get to the second level.”
Matching Bell’s impressive output was an overpowering performance from the Spartan defense, which held Minnesota to seven first downs, four rushing yards and only 96 total yards of offense.
MSU’s defense also forced four turnovers, with senior cornerback Johnny Adams nabbing two interceptions, while junior cornerback Darqueze Dennard and redshirt freshman safety RJ Williamson had one interception apiece.
The two interceptions by Adams give him 11 for his career, as he moved into 10th place on MSU’s all-time list.
Adams’ first interception came on the game’s opening possession, and his 11-yard return put MSU in scoring range, setting up a 48-yard field goal from senior kicker Dan Conroy to give the Spartans an early 3-0 lead.
With Minnesota struggling to move the ball, the Golden Gophers’ defense helped Minnesota capture the lead.
Junior linebacker Aaron Hill picked off Andrew Maxwell and returned the interception 33 yards for a touchdown, putting Minnesota in front 7-3 with 4:43 to go in the first quarter.
The interception was one of two for the junior quarterback, who finished the game completing 13-of-29 passes for 143 yards and said in an interview on 760-AM that keeping composure after the first two interceptions was key.
“When you throw two picks, that’s not the time to hang your head and be mopey … because that’s not what the team needs,” Maxwell said. “I was able to get back in check and back in balance and we were able to do a lot of good things offensively after that.”
The first was the type of fortunate bounce MSU had struggled to get for most of the season.
A pass intended for Tony Lippett bounced off the sophomore receiver’s hands and into the hands of junior receiver Bennie Fowler who took it the distance for a 41-yard touchdown to give MSU a 13-7 halftime lead.
The breaks continued to open the second half, when a 43-yard field goal bounced off the upright and in for MSU, extending MSU’s lead to nine, 16-7, with 11:01 remaining in the third quarter.
After a season-long 48-yard field goal from senior kicker Jordan Wettstein cut the Spartans’ lead back to six, 16-10, MSU owned the rest of the second half, with an eight-yard touchdown run by Bell putting the game away.
Dantonio said it would be a “program game,” earlier in the week, and with the win MSU extends its bowl streak to six consecutive seasons, with the Spartans never missing the chance to play in a bowl game since Dantonio took over as head coach.