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Spartan gridders seek to earn bowl bid with win over Missouri

November 30, 2001

The MSU football team has one final chance to resolve its mediocre season as it takes on Missouri at 11:10 a.m. Saturday in Spartan Stadium.

The Spartans (5-5 overall, 3-5 Big Ten) will try to earn bowl eligibility for the second straight year in its final game. Last year, after MSU ended the season with a 42-23 loss to Penn State, it finished 5-6 and missed a bowl bid by one game.

“We’re in the same situation,” junior tailback T.J. Duckett said. “Everything is left to one game, everything is on us. We don’t want to have that same feeling as last year, no one wants to feel the same way.”

Last week’s loss to Penn State was originally scheduled as the season closer, but because of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, the team now exits with the postponed Missouri matchup.

Practicing this week felt strange, senior linebacker Josh Thornhill said.

“This whole week has been kind of weird practicing, knowing that we should be done right now,” Thornhill said. “But I don’t think about it too much because I know we have to stay focused. I just see it as one more opportunity to go out there and play for the green and white.”

But along with memories of Sept. 11, the team has been contemplating the ups and downs season. Defensive secondary coach Troy Douglas said he can’t be sure which version of MSU will show up Saturday.

“I think we’ll play hard, but who knows what will happen during the game,” Douglas said. “It’s hard for me to read this team. The thing about this team is one week the defense plays good and one week the offense plays good.

“We haven’t put together a complete game yet. We might both play good and the special teams won’t play good. We have so many young kids playing it’s tough to get a feel for what they’re going to do.”

Two years ago, MSU was gearing up for its victory against Florida in the Citrus Bowl. That team finished 10-2, which makes it difficult to understand how things have turned so mediocre, Thornhill said.

“I couldn’t imagine the things that have happened over the years, I couldn’t really imagine that,” Thornhill said. “I thought the program was definitely on its way up after that. But we’ve had some tough breaks.

“I thought we were on our way up this year, but for one reason or another we’ve had some hardships.”

After spending four years on defense, Thornhill said he may try to give MSU an extra boost Saturday and play some fullback.

“I still might have that opportunity,” Thornhill said. “I’m not dropping any hints, talk to me after the game.”

But Thornhill’s All-American third team presence will still be needed on defense, as Missouri’s (4-6) strength is running the football.

“They have a decent running game,” Thornhill said. “I think basically if we can stop that we should come out on top. We can’t let them hold the ball too long - we have to get the ball back to our offense.”

Unlike last year’s closer, this year’s squad gets to try for its final win, and a bowl bid, at home.

“We’re playing at home, so I think that helps out somewhat,” Douglas said. “I don’t know how much difference that makes, I think we have to win, we have to play a good game like we tried to do last year.”

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