Thursday, May 23, 2024

Dowdell humbled in debut

November 19, 2001
Redshirt freshman quarterback Damon Dowdell escapes getting tackled by Purdue right tackle senior Matt Mitrione at the game at Purdue Sunday. The Spartans lost to Purdue 24-14.

Some players try to control their nerves by puking or taking naps before games.

But all Damon Dowdell needed to shake his jitters in his first collegiate start was a love tap from Purdue defensive end Akin Ayodele.

On MSU’s sixth play of the game Saturday, Dowdell scrambled for a 5-yard gain on third-and-14, only to get smacked out-of-bounds by Ayodele at the MSU 40-yard line.

“As soon as that happened I knew it was time to stop being nervous,” Dowdell said. “I just told myself that it was on and that I was ready to go.”

MSU head coach Bobby Williams threw the redshirt freshman into the mix at quarterback for injured sophomore starter Jeff Smoker, who was recovering from a sprained left shoulder. Smoker is expected to start against Penn State on Saturday.

Dowdell began the game tight and indecisive. His first completed pass as a Spartan was an 11-yard screen to junior running back T.J. Duckett, which he followed three plays later with a wobbly incomplete pass that Purdue cornerback Antwaun Rogers nearly picked off.

The pass to Duckett was one of only two completed in the first quarter.

It wasn’t until the second half that Dowdell found his rhythm. He finished the game with 304 passing yards, completing 24-of-45 passes for one touchdown in the air and one on the ground.

On MSU’s opening series of the second half, Dowdell connected on deep routes, including a 27-yard strike over the middle to senior tight end Chris Baker.

He took the Spartans on a 10-play, 81-yard scoring drive, capped off by a 7-yard touchdown pass to sophomore wide receiver Charles Rogers.

“It was a key moment in the game and Damon looked sharp,” said Rogers, who spent all of last year on the scout team with Dowdell. “He showed that he can play in the league. I’m proud of how he came through.”

Dowdell also breathed life into MSU’s chances for its sixth win of the year after his 1-yard touchdown run at about the nine-minute mark of the fourth quarter.

The score cut the Purdue lead to three, 17-14.

And that’s when problems struck for the Spartans, especially Dowdell, whose fumble led to a Purdue score. He also threw two interceptions in the game’s final seven minutes.

Dowdell said it took a little while for him to feel comfortable with the offense and that there’s no excuse for the mistakes that he made.

“I think I did pretty well with my reads, especially as the game went on,” Dowdell said. “But I can’t explain why I turned the ball over in those final minutes. It did help though to have my teammates, especially Jeff (Smoker), helping me out.”

Smoker commended Dowdell’s ability to make the most out of a difficult scenario.

“I definitely know what it’s like,” Smoker said. “It’s crazy going from not playing at all to a college football game like this. There’s no question that Damon was put in a tough situation out there. He had to literally learn on the run, and I think he did a good job.”

Junior left tackle Ulish Booker agrees and said he was amazed at Dowdell’s ability to make plays in such a big game.

“That’s something I couldn’t have done,” Booker said. “He showed a lot of heart out there under some very tough circumstances. Damon Dowdell is a guy that I would go to war with anytime.”

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