Sunday, July 12, 2020

Drop Zone: Key fumble one of many mistakes in loss to rivals

October 23, 2000
Sophomore tailback T.J. Duckett fumbles the ball after being hit by Michigan sophomore outside linebacker Victor Hobson during Saturday's game at Michigan Stadium in Ann Arbor. —

ANN ARBOR - Bobby Williams couldn’t have said it simpler.

“We got the ball in the red zone several times today and we didn’t get any point production,” MSU’s head coach said after Saturday’s game. “I’m very disappointed.”

Unable to capitalize inside the 10-yard line on two occasions, MSU was shut out for the first time this season in a 14-0 loss at No. 15 Michigan (6-2 overall, 4-1 Big Ten).

The last time MSU (3-4, 0-4) scored a point was the first quarter of the Wisconsin game Oct. 14. Held scoreless for seven quarters now, Saturday’s loss amplified the offense’s inability to find the end zone.

“It’s costing us games,” said junior quarterback Ryan Van Dyke. “We’ve got to start scoring points.”

With the Wolverine offense only able to muster a touchdown in the first half, the game was within the Spartans’ reach as the MSU offense had success moving the ball. MSU put up 355 yards of total offense to U-M’s 326, much in part to Van Dyke, who went 26-of-37 for 292 yards and an interception.

On the opening drive of the second half, MSU marched 72 yards down the field to the U-M 2-yard line and looked to be headed for the end zone.

“I told everyone in the huddle that we were going to do it,” Van Dyke said. “There was no doubt in my mind that we were going to score points.”

However, the Spartans failed to punch the ball in with sophomore tailback T.J. Duckett on first and second down. Then Duckett fumbled the option pitch from Van Dyke and U-M defensive tackle Eric Wilson recovered at the 8-yard line after linebacker Larry Foote kept the ball inbounds.

“I just lost it,” Duckett said. “I didn’t get control of the ball. It was an option pitch that I wish I could have back.”

Duckett did not return to the game after the fumble because of a shoulder injury. He finished with 17 carries for 70 yards.

Williams not only said U-M failed to recover the ball before it went out of bounds but also that his team scored on first and goal.

“It seemed to me that it was not a fumble and it seemed to me that we scored on the first play,” he said. “It didn’t seem like they had any possession when they fell on the ball.”

The turnover proved to be a game-turning play, as U-M drove 92 yards in five plays and went ahead 14-0 on running back Anthony Thomas’ second touchdown of the day.

Early in the fourth quarter, the Spartans made another surge for the end zone. MSU drove 70 yards to the Wolverines’ 9-yard line but turned the ball over on downs when Van Dyke scrambled right and was forced out of bounds on fourth and two.

MSU’s last two possessions of the game went fruitless as the offense turned the ball over on downs with 7:42 left and Van Dyke’s pass was intercepted in the end zone shortly before the game ended.

Senior guard Dave Sucura said it hurts to drive down the field and not get points.

“We had the ball on the goal line and tried to punch it in several times,” he said. “We just couldn’t capitalize on our opportunities today.

“That’s the way it’s been going for us the last couple of games.”

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