MINNEAPOLIS — Minnesota is off to a 3-0 start to the season, outscoring their non-conference opponents a combined 149 to 17. The 149 points through the first three games of the season are the most for the Gophers since 1916.
"You can call it a surgical performance when you look at offense, defense, special teams," said Minnesota head coach P.J. Fleck.
Minnesota now turns its attention towards conference play on Saturday, starting with a trip to East Lansing to face 2-1 Michigan State at 2:30 p.m. CT on the BigTen Network.
"They are a Mel Tucker-coached, Michigan State-tough, well-coached football team. You can see it. That DNA is across every player that they have," Fleck said.
This will be Minnesota's first road game of the season, the Gophers have lost five straight to the Spartans.
"We are for sure ready to go on the road. It's going to be a great time. We prepared for it, too," said defensive tackle Trill Carter.
"That's what's exciting about playing in this conference. Playing in places like that (Spartan Stadium), playing against fantastic football teams in environments where people really care about football," said Minnesota quarterback Tanner Morgan.
The Spartans were ranked 11th last week before being upset at Washington on Saturday, surrendering 397 passing yards in the 39-28 loss. Michigan State finished last season 130th, last in the FBS, giving up 325 passing yards per game.
"They got a lot of really good football players. Dudes that fly around and make plays. They got a great defensive line, great secondary, linebackers that play really hard. That's what playing in the Big Ten is all about. Playing against really good teams, that's what makes it fun," said Morgan.
Minnesota will play the rest of the season without top wide receiver Chris Autman-Bell, who suffered a season-ending lower leg injury in the win over Colorado last weekend. Autman-Bell led the team in catches (11), receiving yards (214) and touchdowns (1).
"He's a huge member of this football team and will continue to be a huge member of this football team. His leadership is second to none and we are going to continue to need that from him. It's unfortunate. My heart breaks for him because he's worked incredibly hard," said Fleck.
Minnesota will appeal to the NCAA for a medical redshirt for Autman-Bell, meaning he could return next year for a seventh season.
"You don't replace a guy like No. 7, you don't replace the type of guy Chris is in terms of on-the-field leadership," said Morgan.
Offensively, the Spartans are led by quarterback Payton Thorne. The junior has thrown for 768 yards, seven touchdowns and four interceptions in three games this season. Last fall as a sophomore, he threw for 3,232 yards, 27 touchdowns and ten interceptions.
"They have wideouts galore. Tight ends that can block and are incredibly athletic and make freaky catches. They got a quarterback that's played a ton of football, who's got a ton of moxie, who's got great leadership and has great control of the offense. He (Payton Thorne) plays with a ton of passion and emotion and is the heartbeat of that team," said Fleck.
The Gophers have lost their last three trips to East Lansing, with their last win at Michigan State back in 2006.
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