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Spartans overpowered 37-28

November 12, 2001
sophomore center Brian Ottney holds his head in his hands during the final moments of the Spartans

Indiana had more to play for Saturday than just its third conference win of the season.

After embarrassing MSU 37-28 at home, the Hoosiers (3-6, 3-3 Big Ten) waited on the field until they received a dingy, yet coveted award that has been in the Spartans’ grasp since 1994.

It might look like garage sale reject, but the traditional Old Brass Spittoon - given to the victor of the game each year - was greatly appreciated by the thrilled winners, who had been eagerly waiting for its return.

“We came up here to get that,” said Indiana running back Levron Williams, who pounded the Spartans for 251 yards - just 3 yards shy of an MSU opponent record.

“We had little printouts of it all over our locker room.”

And the extra motivation showed, especially in the fourth quarter when the Hoosiers continued their dominance on the ground - finishing with a season high 489 yards rushing.

Indiana’s Williams and quarterback Antwaan Randle El combined for 400 of those yards Saturday.

After watching hours of videotape on the Spartans’ (5-3, 3-3) variety of defensive fronts during the week, Randle El said he had a good idea of how to attack them.

“They would bring the safety down (on some of the coverages) and when they do that you have to know the right play to get into,” Randle El said. “That was a big part of our offense, we got into the right plays and it just took off from there.”

The Hoosiers’ defense didn’t fall short either, forcing two interceptions from sophomore quarterback Jeff Smoker in the game’s final 2:14.

“We just didn’t play with the fire that Indiana played with,” MSU head coach Bobby Williams said of the loss, which also included three Spartan fumbles. “We had an opportunity to do some things, but we just couldn’t overcome the mistakes.”

Two key mishaps that proved to be a blemish on the Spartans’ stat sheet were a bobbled punt return in the second quarter - recovered by the Hoosiers on the MSU 17-yard line- and a frantic fake field goal attempt on fourth-and-12 early in the fourth quarter.

The fumbled return led to a Levron Williams touchdown on ensuing series, locking the game at 14, and the fake punt was MSU’s last chance at a comeback before the string of Smoker interceptions.

MSU secondary coach Troy Douglas said senior safety Duron Bryon, who handled the fake punt, was confused about the ruling of the play.

“He thought it was a pass,” Douglas said. “He saw the guy scramble and next thing you know he saw the ball come out there. That’s what I immediately thought, that he thought it was a pass.”

And senior punter Craig Jarrett, who took the fake punt snap and tossed the ball off to freshman kicker Dave Rayner, said he regrets his costly blunder.

“It was my fault,” said Jarrett of the play, which resulted in a 1-yard gain. “We should have just kicked it. It was my choice to either run it or kick it depending on what look they gave us. I made a decision and I was wrong.”

But the problems didn’t end there.

The Spartans’ pass protection has also been suspect the past two games.

Despite getting sacked 13 times in the past two games, Smoker fought through the pain to complete 20-of-30 passes for a a game-high 288 yards and three touchdown passes.

Smoker caught fire with five Spartan receivers, including senior Herb Haygood who caught eight balls for 132 yards and two touchdowns.

“I might have got sacked a lot last week, but a lot of them weren’t direct hits,” said Smoker, referring to the slew of Michigan linebackers that pounced on him Nov. 3. “One or two of those (Saturday) were good direct hits, and that was the difference.”

On one hit near the goal line, Smoker sustained a mild sprain in his left shoulder which could lead to some playing time for redshirt freshman quarterback Damon Dowdell.

Williams said Dowdell will have to be ready when the Spartans travel to Purdue on Nov. 17.

Although his left arm was in a sling after Saturday’s game, Smoker said he will be recovered and ready to play against the Boilermakers.

The Spartans, who haven’t won six or more games since 1999 , are still one game shy of becoming bowl eligible.

“It’s time to move on to Purdue,” said senior linebacker Josh Thornhill, who had a game-high 14 tackles and a late fumble recovery on the MSU 5-yard line in the loss.

“We have 12 quarters of football left this year. The season is still in our hands, nothing is over.”

Eric Lacy can be reached at lacyeric@msu.edu.

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