Wednesday, December 8, 2021

Gridders need to find an answer

October 23, 2000

Their quarterback threw for 292 yards on 26 of 37 passes. For the third straight week they outgained the opponent in total yards. Defensively, they’re among the best in the Big Ten.

Introduce yourself to the last place MSU Spartans football team.

Following Saturday’s 14-0 loss at Michigan, Spartan players were disappointed and confused.

How do you explain losing while only giving up 14 points on the road to one of the most potent offensive attacks in the country?

Not easily or with conventional wisdom.

Adding insult to injury, the Spartans had numerous chances to indent the scoreboard.

MSU had first-and-goal at the 2-yard line, and didn’t convert. On another possession, they drove to Michigan’s 9-yard line and came up empty. And just when things seemed hopeless, the Spartans recovered a Michigan botched punt on the Wolverines’ 28-yard line.

MSU celebrated that break-in classic fashion by promptly losing 12 yards, moving them back to the 40-yard line and punting the ball back to Michigan.

The Spartans have had problems in the sacred red zone all year, but Saturday their ineffectiveness stood out in bold and italics.

Trailing 7-0, on the first drive of the second half, the Spartans looked excellent driving the ball to Michigan’s 2-yard line.

On first down, sophomore tailback T.J Duckett appeared to have crossed the goal line, but the referees thought otherwise.

On second down, Duckett was hit in the backfield and lost a yard.

Then, on third down, in what proved to be the biggest play of the game, with a tie game only two yards away, MSU dropped the ball in more ways than one.

The Spartans attempted an option play to the right, but as soon as quarterback Ryan Van Dyke pitched the ball to Duckett, the play was doomed.

Several Wolverines swarmed the big tailback as soon as he touched the ball, and by the time Michigan’s Eric Wilson recovered Duckett’s fumble, MSU was demoralized.

In a perfect sketch of MSU’s season to date, the ball appeared to tumble out of bounds, but of course it bounced the opponent’s way, and into an opponent’s hands.

On a day when MSU’s defense once again stood tall and kept the team within striking distance, even they were too distraught to stop Michigan on the following possession. Behind Anthony Thomas, the Wolverines drove 92 yards in 1:42, extending their lead to 14-0.

For a team that hasn’t scored a point in seven quarters, the deficit was insurmountable.

The red zone problems have gotten so bad, one must think it has become mental. For 80 yards of the field, the offense looked alive under the leadership of Van Dyke. But when it mattered most, MSU couldn’t execute a big run or pass completion.

Whether it is the players, the play-calling or a combination of the two is anybody’s guess.

The Spartans catch a break, one they must capitalize on, when Illinois visits Spartan Stadium next Saturday. The Fighting Illini gave up 39 points to Penn State last Saturday, the same Penn State that scored six points in a losing effort versus Toledo and was shut out by Pittsburgh.

Needless to say, Illinois is not a defensive juggernaut.

The Spartans need something, anything to give their offense a lift at this point. Anybody know if Lorenzo White still has some eligibility?

Jeff Karzen, State News football writer is looking to score, and can be reached at karzenje@msu.edu.

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