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Gophers football team will show if it is for real at Michigan State on Saturday

Minnesota has been all business against three incredibly weak programs: arguably the worst Division I outfit in New Mexico State, a rebuilding FCS team in Western Illinois and possibly the worst Power Five program in Pac-12 member Colorado. Those three teams are a combined 0-10 this season.

NCAA Football: Colorado at Minnesota
Minnesota Golden Gophers head coach P.J. Fleck leads his team out onto the field prior to the second half Saturday, Sept. 17, 2022, at Huntington Bank Stadium in Minneapolis.
Matt Krohn / USA Today Sports
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MINNEAPOLIS -- The University of Minnesota Gophers are 3-0 with a trio of dominant nonconference wins, but do we really know what this football team can do during the Big Ten schedule?

Minnesota has been all business against three incredibly weak programs: arguably the worst Division I outfit in New Mexico State, a rebuilding FCS team in Western Illinois and possibly the worst Power Five program in Pac-12 member Colorado. Those three teams are a combined 0-10 this season.

The first true test is up next: the Gophers’ first road game at Michigan State in East Lansing at 2:30 p.m. Saturday. Minnesota opened as a 3-point underdog to the Spartans, but some betting lines quickly moved in favor of the Gophers on Sunday.

“We are going to find out a lot more about our football team,” head coach P.J. Fleck said after the 49-7 win over Colorado on Saturday. “I keep finding out every week something about our football team that I didn’t know before. You look back every year and it’s the same thing.”

NCAA Football: Colorado at Minnesota
Minnesota Golden Gophers running back Trey Potts runs through the line against the Colorado Buffaloes on Saturday, Sept. 17, 2022, in Minneapolis.
Matt Blewett / USA Today Sports

The Spartans will help reveal the Gophers’ actual quality. The Spartans were 11-2 in 2021 and won the Peach Bowl. This season, they were ranked 11th in the Associated Press Top 25 before falling 39-28 to Washington on Saturday night. While head coach Mel Tucker enjoyed a great season a year ago, the Spartans had the nation’s worst pass defense, and that was their downfall again in Seattle.

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Washington quarterback Michael Penix Jr., an Indiana transfer, passed for nearly 400 yards and four touchdowns. The Huskies took leads of 22-0 in the second quarter and 39-14 in the fourth before an MSU comeback.

The Gophers’ ability to exploit the Spartans secondary is in flux. Quarterback Tanner Morgan is rolling, but No. 1 receiver Chris Autman-Bell suffered a leg injury versus Colorado; Fleck is expected to update Autman-Bell’s status on Monday morning.

If “CrAB” is out as expected, receivers Dylan Wright, Michael Brown-Stephens and Daniel Jackson as well as tight end Brevyn Spann-Ford will need to step up.

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Michigan State had been rolling before its trip to Washington. The Spartans had beaten Western Michigan and Akron by a combined 87-13. They looked top tier … until they weren’t.

“This week we will do everything we can to play one of the best teams in the Big Ten,” Fleck said “(We will) do everything we can to put a game plan together to put our players in the best position to be successful to find a way to be 1-0 against the Spartans.

“They are a really good football team. Very well coached. They’ve got athletes everywhere. We watched them in the offseason. They’ve done a great job in the transfer portal and development. They have playmakers everywhere.”

Michigan State’s offense looks multifaceted, with running backs Jalen Berger (a Wisconsin transfer) and Jarek Broussard (a Colorado transfer) sharing the load. Quarterback Payton Thorne has thrown for more than 700 yards and seven touchdowns. Keon Coleman and Tre Mosley have three touchdown receptions each.

The Gophers will play at Spartan Stadium for the first time since 2013 and away from Minnesota for the first time in 2022.

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“We are going to have to teach the young guys what it’s like to play on the road,” linebacker Mariano Sori-Marin said. “We talk about it all the time: Our culture travels. It doesn’t matter where we play. Our standard of football comes with us. Yes, it’s the first road game, but it shouldn’t change anything for this football team.”

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