Saturday, December 4, 2021

Fumbling in Columbus

Mistakes haunt U again in tough loss

November 6, 2000

COLUMBUS, Ohio - For the first quarter Saturday, the Spartans put their scoring woes behind them.

MSU scored touchdowns on its first two drives of the game, and were dominating the line of scrimmage to the tune of 115 total yards and a 13-3 advantage after 15 minutes of play.

Then, as has been the theme all season, the Spartans (4-5 overall, 1-5 Big Ten) succumbed to mistake-laden football, resulting in a 27-13 loss to Ohio State (7-2, 4-2).

MSU was clinging to a 10-point lead when senior safety Richard Newsome intercepted Buckeye quarterback Steve Bellisari’s pass at Ohio State’s 34-yard line with 11:18 remaining in the second quarter. The Spartans were prepared to stuff the Buckeyes in a giant hole.

But, disaster struck for MSU after driving the ball to Ohio State’s 16-yard line. On third down and four yards to go, freshman quarterback Jeff Smoker was blasted by Buckeye defensive lineman Brent Johnson, jarring the ball loose.

Ohio State safety Mike Doss capitalized on the miscue and returned the fumble 73 yards for a touchdown, cutting MSU’s lead to 13-10 and energizing the Ohio Stadium record crowd of 98,406.

Smoker, who completed 10 of 18 passes for 77 yards, accepted the blame for the play which squashed MSU’s momentum.

“I saw him (Johnson) coming and I tried to step up,” Smoker said. “I probably should have covered up the ball and fell down or thrown the ball away real quick.”

In addition to the Smoker’s fumble, the Spartans committed several other costly blunders including two interceptions, and freshman Ziehl Kavanaught’s botched punt return, which was recovered by Ohio State’s Robert Reynolds at MSU’s 15-yard line.

The Buckeyes converted 17 points off MSU turnovers, compared to zero points for the Spartans off three Buckeye turnovers.

MSU head coach Bobby Williams said the loss was especially hard to swallow because of the unforced errors.

“We didn’t lose because of what they did,” Williams said. “It’s what we did - turning the football over.”

Senior offensive lineman Dave Sucura said the Buckeyes defensive pressure made things difficult on MSU’s offense.

“They sent so many different people at us,” Sucura said, referring to the Buckeyes' barrage of blitzes, which resulted in seven sacks. “It’s what has been hurting us all year. We get the ball to certain places and then we make mistakes.”

In the first half, the Spartans drove into Ohio State territory six times, but only came away with 13 points. The first touchdown was a 1-yard touchdown run by junior Little John Flowers, the first score of his career.

It was also the first time MSU scored this year on the opening drive of the game.

After an Ohio State field goal, the Spartans drove 70 yards and scored when Smoker ran into the end zone from six yards out, giving MSU a 13-3 advantage with 2:23 left in the first quarter.

It would be the last score for the Spartans.

MSU’s defense held Ohio State to 289 yards total offense, but allowed running back Derek Combs to run for a career-high 153 yards on 31 carries, and one touchdown.

“I think we did a pretty good job at containing them,” said senior cornerback Renaldo Hill.

"But in football the game does switch fast, and when it does you have to settle down. Today, I don't think we did that."

Junior linebacker Josh Thornhill said although MSU's offense had some problems, blaming teammates isn't the answer.

“It’s frustrating, but we don’t want to point any fingers,” Thornhill said.

Sophomore tailback T.J. Duckett rushed 15 times for 83 yards, after only carrying the ball once last week against Illinois. Duckett said he felt about 95 percent healthy Saturday.

“Our defense created turnovers today and gave us great field position,” Duckett said. “But we couldn’t put the ball in the end zone and that has been the story all season.”

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