Column: Turnovers must stop if MSU wants to contend for a Big Ten Title
After MSU’s 14-10 win over then-No. 7 Michigan on the road in Ann Arbor in monsoon-like conditions, the Spartans brought back the Paul Bunyan Trophy to East Lansing and talk of being a legitimate contender in the Big Ten race emerged.
But if the Spartans’ turnover problems persist, the only shot MSU has to remain a contender relies on its defense.
Turnovers have plagued this year’s team from Week 1.
LJ Scott had two fumbles in the Spartans’ season-opening win against Bowling Green, including one at the goal line on MSU’s first offensive possession of the season. MSU would end the day with four fumbles, three of which were recovered by the Falcons.
On Saturday, MSU topped Minnesota 30-27. In what was another game drenched in rain and even included a 34-minute delay due to lightning, the Spartans defense held strong, limiting the Golden Gophers to just 74 yards rushing.
Scott had a career night, recording 194 yards on the ground and two touchdowns, but his monumental game would be overshadowed by a lost fumble in the fourth quarter, however, he was able to quickly rebound from his turnover by running into the end zone for a 6-yard touchdown on the Spartans’ next possession.
The Ohio native’s fumble would be the second and final fumble lost by the Spartans in the win. Quarterback Brian Lewerke threw an interception in the first quarter as the Spartans accumulated three total turnovers
The Spartans now have 11 turnovers in 2017 — three interceptions by Lewerke and eight fumbles — and their opponents have scored 51 points off those turnovers.
While the rain certainly could be the leading factor in the lack of ball security on Saturday, MSU needs to curb its turnovers if the Spartans want to have a chance at defeating Ohio State and Penn State later in the season.
And if they don’t? Well, each game will rely on MSU’s stingy, run-stuffing defense.
Through six games, MSU is ranked No. 5 in the nation in total defense, allowing a combined total of 1,583 yards of total offense.
The Spartans are limiting opponents to just 93.3 yards rushing per game and an average of 18.2 points per game.
By holding Minnesota, who entered Saturday’s contest under the lights averaging 190 yards on the ground per game, to just 74 yards rushing, the Spartans now have held three opponents to under 100 yards rushing in 2017.
MSU has a chance to improve to 6-1 on the season next Saturday against Indiana in its homecoming game and officially become bowl eligible, but the Spartans are going to have to limit turnovers and continue to be dominant on defense to prevent an upset in Spartan Stadium.