MINNEAPOLIS - Le'Veon Bell rumbled for a career-high 266 yards and a fourth-quarter touchdown to put the game away, leading Michigan State to a 26-10 victory over Minnesota on Saturday to secure a spot in a bowl game.
Bell carried 35 times on a cold afternoon and Dan Conroy made four of his five field-goal attempts, three of them from 43 yards or longer, to help the Spartans (6-6, 3-5 Big Ten) wear down the Gophers (6-6, 2-6).
Minnesota played the second half without coach Jerry Kill on the sideline. The team didn't immediately give a reason.
Aaron Hill's 33-yard interception return for a touchdown gave Minnesota a lead it kept for more than 18 minutes in the first half, but Jordan Wettstein's season-long 48-yard field goal was the only offensive score for the Gophers, who had a season-low 96 total yards -- and just 4 yards rushing. Philip Nelson threw three interceptions, two by Johnny Adams, and was replaced in the fourth quarter by Max Shortell, who was picked off too.
Despite the single-digit margin that lasted until 7:25 was left, when Bell patiently waited for an opening around left end and jogged across the goal line, this was downright domination for the Spartans considering how close all their games were this season. They lost five times in conference play by a total of 13 points, and their other two Big Ten wins were by seven points combined.
Adams moved into 10th on Michigan State's all-time list with 11 interceptions. The first one set up Conroy's first field goal, but the Spartans advanced only 3 yards after it. The second one led to a punt.
For all the work the defense did to keep the Gophers competitive, there were two costly lapses. In the second quarter, Andrew Maxwell went 5 for 7 for 74 yards to lead an 82-yard touchdown drive capped by a 40-yard catch and run for the score by Bennie Fowler off a tipped pass. Fowler finished with seven receptions and 101 yards.
Then there was the clinching march, when Bell ran eight straight times to close from 8 yards out and stretch the lead to 16 points. Bell was the conference's second-leading rusher behind Wisconsin's Montee Bell entering the week, and is ninth in the nation. The junior became the seventh rusher in Spartans history to pass the 3,000-yard mark for his career.
Maxwell was intercepted twice in the first half, including one by Brock Vereen in the end zone. Hill's slick grab in the flat was the third pick returned for a touchdown against Maxwell this season. He has 13 touchdowns and nine interceptions this season. He went 13 for 29 for 143 yards.
Nelson finished 10 for 23 for 61 yards.
Minnesota's trouble moving the ball was predictable. The Gophers, except for their 34-point first half that fueled a 44-28 win over Purdue on Oct. 28, haven't scored more than 17 points in a game since a mid-September win over Western Michigan. The Gophers finally have their offensive line close to full strength after a slew of injuries, but wide receiver Marcus Jones and tight end Drew Goodger were both out this game with maladies of their own. And, of course, their best wide receiver, A.J. Barker, is gone after angrily quitting the team earlier this week in a dispute with Kill.
Then there's that Spartans defense, as stingy as ever despite this disappointing follow-up to those consecutive 11-win seasons. Seventh in the nation and tops in the Big Ten in yards allowed per game, this group hasn't been to blame for the slip.
The Gophers had won their final home game in each of their first three seasons at TCF Bank Stadium and were 11-4 on senior day over the previous 15 years.
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