Thursday, May 23, 2024

Fumbling Spartans in bowl bind

November 19, 2001
Purdue running back Montrell Lowe flips over MSU junior safety Thomas Wright to score a touchdown during the third quarter of Saturday’s game. The Boilermakers defeated the Spartans 24-14.

West Lafayette, Ind. - One inexperienced quarterback and loads of mistakes left MSU one more week out of the bowl hunt.

The Spartans (5-4 overall, 3-4 Big Ten) racked up six turnovers Saturday as they failed to clinch the sixth win needed to become bowl eligible for the second straight week.

The 24-14 setback at Ross-Ade Stadium paved the way for Purdue (6-3, 4-3) to earn bowl eligibility.

“When you turn the football over like we did it really makes it hard to win,” MSU head football coach Bobby Williams said.

And the games biggest offender in the turnover department was redshirt freshman quarterback Damon Dowdell, who fumbled twice and tossed two interceptions.

“I started off pretty slow, but I felt more comfortable once I had more reps on the field,” said Dowdell, who went 24-for-45 for 304 yards including a touchdown pass and run. “I learned out there on the field that I have to be more patient with my reads and decision making.”

Dowdell was set as the starter early in the week when sophomore quarterback Jeff Smoker’s status shifted from probable to sidelined.

Smoker sprained his left shoulder against Indiana on Nov. 10, but said he expects to start against Penn State on Saturday.

“I feel I should be 100 percent by this weekend,” he said.

Saturday’s game was still up for grabs midway through the final quarter. Trailing 17-7, Dowdell conducted a 91-yard, 10-play drive against the Boilermakers to trail 17-14 with 9:05 left.

After hooking senior tight end Chris Baker up for 21 yards and sophomore wide receiver Charles Rogers for 16 yards, Dowdell took the ball across the goal line himself on a 1-yard scamper.

And things seemed to be going well for MSU when it forced Purdue to punt on the next drive. But on the first play of MSU’s drive, linebacker Landon Johnson stripped the ball from Dowdell as he sacked him.

The strip was Johnson’s second of the game, but this time defensive tackle Craig Terrill scooped it up on his way to the end zone for a 12-yard touchdown run.

MSU’s next two offensive drives were cut short by interceptions.

The Spartans didn’t trail the entire game. After a scoreless first half, MSU scored on its first drive in the second half. The drive went 81 yards in 10 plays and Dowdell finished it off by floating a 7-yard touchdown pass over sophomore wide receiver Charles Rogers’ shoulder.

“It was right there, right on the money, thrown right in the back of the end zone and I made a play on it,” said Rogers, who had seven catches for 108 yards.

But the Boilermakers made the next two scores.

Purdue took the lead after junior tailback T.J. Duckett coughed up the ball with 5:39 left in the third quarter. Purdue only gained 1 yard on the drive, but kicker Travis Dorsch hit a 42-yard field goal to give the Boilermakers a 10-7 advantage.

“It was just me trying to do too much,” Duckett said. “I had a couple people on me, I’m trying to reach for the extra, just trying too hard. The ball slipped away from me a little bit, and they ripped it out.”

And six minutes later, Purdue extended its lead in the wake of another MSU fumble. This time, Johnson stripped senior tailback Little John Flowers and cornerback Antwaun Rogers recovered it at MSU’s 20-yard line.

Two minutes later, Purdue running back Montrell Lowe extended the lead to 17-10 after a 2-yard touchdown run.

The first half was not fumble-free either, as both teams combined for three turnovers on fumbles. MSU failed to get on the board as freshman kicker Dave Rayner misfired from distances of 47 and 37 yards in the second quarter.

“I can’t blame anybody else,” Rayner said. “I pulled it and didn’t keep my head down. (The first one) I thought it was going to be a high snap, so I sort of stutter-stepped and shouldn’t of obviously because the snap was fine. It’s my fault.”

Justin A. Rice can be reached at ricejust@msu.edu.

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