Tuesday, July 7, 2020

After rough losses team could make comeback

October 16, 2000

We were all fooled. And it wasn’t the first time.

Three straight wins to begin the season and a running back named T.J. Duckett can mess with your head like that.

While MSU clawed its way to an ugly but effective 3-0 start, many people, including myself, thought the Spartans would start playing good football - realizing how fortunate they were to be undefeated.

But we were all wearing blinders.

Injuries, inexperience and a tough schedule don’t just disappear. While this isn’t a crutch coaches prefer to lean on, it’s the truth. And the Spartans haven’t done much to overcome these obstacles.

When junior starting quarterback Ryan Van Dyke went down, it appeared the Spartan season was over, but suddenly, freshman Jeff Smoker stepped in and won a couple of ballgames.

And just as quickly as Van Dyke bruised his thumb, we forgot Smoker started college classes a month ago. We were reminded when he showed his unavoidable lack of poise in a 37-17 home loss to Northwestern on Sept. 30.

After the Northwestern loss, many figured Iowa City would be the place MSU would step into form along with the return of Van Dyke.

Not so much.

MSU gave another poor performance at Iowa and lost to a team coming off 13 straight defeats.

At this point, scores of people came to realize this team had a lot of growing up to do, and fast. As evidenced by Saturday’s loss to Wisconsin, it hasn’t.

In addition to shaky quarterbacking, MSU has been killed by injuries to starting linebacker T.J. Turner, starting safety Richard Newsome, starting tight end Chris Baker and just about every offensive lineman.

After losing several starters from last year’s 10-2 team to graduation or to the NFL, the Spartans needed flawless execution combined with a clean bill of health for a return trip to a New Year’s Day bowl.

And they’ve gotten neither.

So the question now is, “Where does the team go from here?”

With a game at Michigan looming Saturday, the Spartans will have to start playing better than they have all season to have a chance at victory. While Michigan is far from unbeatable, if both teams play the way they’ve been playing, it’s going to be ugly.

For Spartan fans that is.

Maybe I’m crazy, and I’m pretty sure I’m not a “homer,” but I honestly wouldn’t be shocked if the Spartans pull an upset next week.

Nothing around this place should come as a surprise anymore.

Everybody will be predicting a Wolverine drubbing, but does anyone remember a certain game at Ohio State two years ago?

I’m sure veteran Spartan players do.

It seems the team can only get healthier, because not a game has gone by without a key player limping off.

Problem is, the schedule isn’t getting any easier. Illinois, Ohio State, Purdue and Penn State remain.

With three victories in the next five games needed to be bowl eligible, people are sure to be pessimistic.

Spartan fans will begin their barrage of, “MSU is not going to win another game.” Oddly enough, negativity might be exactly what the team needs.

Jeff Karzen can be reached at karzenje@msu.edu

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