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Red zone turnovers cause Spartans demise to Bears

September 16, 2002
Junior wide receiver Charles Rogers gets a good look at the ball before he drops it in the fourth quarter of Saturday —

The MSU football team faltered early and often Saturday at Spartan Stadium.

The Spartans turned the ball over five times, but none were more noticeable than the two first quarter turnovers inside California’s 5-yard line.

MSU had its chances to take control of the game before allowing 18 second-quarter points en route to a humiliating 46-22 defeat.

Trailing 7-0, the Spartans failed to score on two consecutive drives. Both drives ended in turnovers.

A spectacular 31-yard catch by junior wide receiver Charles Rogers set up the first scoring threat, giving the Spartans the ball at the Bears’ 3-yard line.

On first and goal, senior tailback Dawan Moss burrowed ahead for 2 yards.

On second down, Moss mishandled a pitch from junior quarterback Jeff Smoker, which was recovered by Golden Bears’ outside linebacker Matt Nixon at the 5-yard line.

“I wasn’t focused on the toss,” Moss said. “It wasn’t anybody’s fault but mine. I take full blame for that.”

On the Spartans next drive, the team found itself in another situation to even the score.

Starting at their own 49, Smoker connected on a 21-yard catch to Rogers. A 15-yard roughing the passer penalty and a 13-yard defensive pass interference penalty put the Spartans close to paydirt.

Sitting 2 yards from the end zone, the Spartans ran three pass plays, which resulted in the second red zone debacle.

On a designed pass play, California middle linebacker Marcus Daniels dropped Smoker for a 2-yard loss.

On the next play, Smoker, unable to find an open target, scrambled before finally being sacked by Bears’ defensive end Jamaal Cherry for a 14-yard loss.

Then, on third and goal from the 18-yard line, Smoker underthrew a pass intended for Rogers in the end zone, resulting in the first of two interceptions by California cornerback James Bethea.

“We have to execute the play no matter what the play is,” junior center Brian Ottney said. “We can bounce back, and we will bounce back.”

Still, Rogers said the Spartans’ troubles in the red zone didn’t affect the team’s confidence.

“It didn’t get us down in the huddle,” Rogers said. “We’re a good team and we know we’re supposed to score every time we’re down there.”

On the consecutive first-and-goal opportunities, the Spartans managed only 18 yards of offense - and it was all negative.

Senior offensive tackle Ulish Booker said the botched scoring opportunities were disheartening. “It hurts a lot,” Booker said. “That’s what we’re out there for to score points. This week we just have to go back to the drawing board.”

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