Weber's 5 TDs propel Minnesota despite penalties, Decker's absence

MINNEAPOLIS -- Adam Weber passed for 416 yards and five touchdowns, helping Minnesota hurdle a school-record 17 penalties and hang on to beat Michigan State 42-34 on Saturday night.

Playing without injured star wide receiver Eric Decker for the first time, Weber stepped up for his struggling offense at the best possible time. Completing 19 of 31 passes for the career high in yardage, Weber had his first five-score game since his freshman year.

Running back Duane Bennett caught two of the touchdowns for Minnesota (5-4, 3-3 Big Ten), including an incredible recreation of the famous Immaculate Reception by Franco Harris for the Pittsburgh Steelers in 1972 to stretch the lead to eight with 6:04 left.

Tight end Nick Tow-Arnett, who had a career-high eight catches for 81 yards and two scores, caught a third-and-17 pass from Weber near the Michigan State 35 and landed on his back after a jarring hit. The ball never touched the ground and popped right up into the hands of Bennett, who ran the rest of the way for the 59-yard touchdown.

The fans were fed up with the refs, who flagged the Gophers for 157 yards in penalties -- also the most in their history. The calls evened out in the end, though.

Right before Bennett's score off the bobbled ball, Tow-Arnett lost a fumble that was recovered by the Spartans. It was overturned by replay review, which ruled an incomplete pass.

On the following possession, the Spartans were whistled for four of their nine penalties. They reached the 39, but Kirk Cousins overthrew his receiver on fourth down. They stopped the Gophers on third-and-1, but punter Blake Haudan drew a roughing call on Kendell Davis-Clark and Minnesota was able to run out the clock.

The Spartans (4-5, 3-3) were fortunate to be in the game in the second half, given all the self-inflicted problems by the Gophers. This was a familiar tough loss, though; all of Michigan State's defeats this year have come by eight points or less.

Cousins dropped a snap and threw an interception in the first half, but neither turnover led to points for Minnesota. He finished 21 for 35 for 236 yards and two touchdowns, both of them impressive throws. His 11-yard toss to tight end Dion Sims gave the Spartans their first lead, 31-28 heading into the final quarter.

The third quarter actually belonged to Keshawn Martin.

The sophomore wide receiver took the kickoff back 82 yards for a score and then raced 84 yards for a touchdown on an end around to put the Spartans in position for the wild finish.

The Gophers ditched their spread offense for a pro-style power running system this season, and Weber's struggles have been glaring at times during the transition. Without Decker, it was natural to assume the worst.

On the first play from scrimmage, though, Weber used a textbook play-action fake to find Bennett open along the sideline for a 62-yard catch and tiptoe streak along the sideline.

After the Spartans fumbled the kickoff, Weber found Brandon Green in tight coverage in the corner of the end zone from 37 yards out to make it 14-0 just 107 seconds into the game.

Decker badly sprained his foot the week before and will have season-ending surgery on Wednesday. Leaning on crutches, he smiled at Weber as his close friend and roommate hugged him following the second score.


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