Thursday, May 23, 2024

Spartans finally dominate

December 3, 2001
Freshman defensive end Clifford Dukes sacks Missouri quarterback Kirk Farmer Saturday at Spartan Stadium. The Spartans won 55-7.

So much for the notion that an 11 a.m. kickoff would lead to sluggish results.

In fact, MSU’s players were so fired up in pregame warmups against Missouri on Saturday that they had to be calmed down by the coaching staff.

Nobody wanted to see any more injuries to end this erratic regular season.

“It was a full speed scrimmage out there,” head coach Bobby Williams said after a 55-7 declawing of Missouri. “In my 12 years here I’ve never seen anything like it.”

In the first December home game in school history MSU’s offense cruised, racking up a season high 639 total yards.

The defense also dominated, giving up a mere 74 yards passing, shutting out the Tigers for more than 59 minutes.

MSU made such a statement in the win, that it forced one opponent to turn on his own teammate on the field.

“After their quarterback threw away a pass (early in the game), one of their receivers said, ‘Man our quarterback is sorry, this is crazy, I want to get out of here,’” junior safety Thomas Wright said. “I have never heard anything like that before. That was definitely a sign that they gave up.”

MSU’s ability to establish a potent running attack allowed the Spartans (6-5 overall, 3-5 Big Ten) to pull away from the Tigers early, senior wide receiver Herb Haygood said.

“Our running game got going early and that started it all,” Haygood said. “It opened things up for (sophomore wide receiver Charles Rogers) and I, and we were able to take advantage of that. This was a game that showed we’re a real team, despite all the ups and downs this year.”

Junior tailback T.J. Duckett thrived against the Tigers’ coverage, which involved plenty of help from the secondary.

On numerous occasions, Missouri’s safeties were forced to rotate down to slow the running game.

That scheme lead to more openings for MSU’s receiving tandem of Rogers and Haygood, who flourished in the open field against plenty of single-man coverage.

Rogers, who tied MSU’s record for touchdowns in a season with 12, caught seven balls for 168 yards and two touchdowns and Haygood caught three passes for 86 yards.

It also helped that sophomore quarterback Jeff Smoker, who completed 14-of-17 passes for 317 yards and two touchdowns, had plenty of protection and time to throw to his speedy targets.

“Our line really made it easy for me out there,” said Smoker, who is still recovering from a sprained left shoulder. “I didn’t take any hits today and didn’t really have to make any tough throws. It’s a lot easier to be in the pocket when you have plenty of time to throw and good blockers in front of you.”

Despite only a one-game improvement from last year’s 5-6 mark, the Spartans finally showed that they can play a full game of inspired football.

And it’s that kind of approach that has been lacking in years past, senior linebacker Josh Thornhill said.

Thornhill recalls a different team competing in last year’s season finale at Penn State, which resulted in a 42-23 loss.

“I remember being in the Penn State locker room last year at halftime,” Thornhill said.

“A lot of us had our jackets on because it was so cold. We were all worried about the game and the weather. But out on the field today (Saturday) we were just out in our jerseys focused and ready to go. I don’t think anybody even realized how cold it was out there.”

Thornhill said MSU had more at stake Saturday, and it showed on the field.

“We wanted to be out there on the field and compete,” Thornhill said. “I really don’t think Missouri did.”


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