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Williams says team still has long way to go

September 3, 2002
Junior wide receiver Charles Rogers hangs on to the ball as Eastern Michigan sophomore cornerback Nate Brooks tries to break up the first touchdown play of the game Saturday at Spartan Stadium. The Spartans defeated the Eagles 56-7. —

The 56 points put up against Eastern Michigan were more than the MSU football team put up in any single game last season and the most in a season opener since the Spartans’ 93-0 win against Alma in 1932.

The No. 15-ranked Spartans even moved up in both major polls, yet head coach Bobby Williams wasn’t satisfied with the 56-7 victory.

“We’ve got a long way to go as a football team,” he said. “It’s certainly something for us to build off of and get back to work.”

It’s hard to complain about an offense that put up 625 yards of total offense, but Williams wasn’t pleased with just seven first-quarter points.

Williams attributed some of the sluggish start to junior quarterback Jeff Smoker, who completed 14-of-24 with 232 passing yards, three touchdowns and one interception.

The signal caller said he wasn’t crisp from the start and looked to junior wide receiver Charles Rogers too much, admitting, “it’s kind of hard not to try and throw the ball to him.”

The most noticeable instance came on MSU’s second drive of the second quarter. The Spartans led 7-0, and Smoker tried to force a 32-yard strike in to Rogers for a touchdown, but Eagle strong safety Jerry Gaines ended up with the ball.

MSU regained its composure in time to take a 28-0 halftime lead. Another reason for the slow start was the new grass, which Williams said took some time to get used to.

“It was a little soft. We had some guys slip early in the game,” he said. “But I thought as the game went on we got a little more comfortable with the footing.”

That was evident from the opening kickoff of the second half - which the Spartans returned 74 yards - and the team looked strong the rest of the way.

The trio of tailbacks - senior Dawan Moss and freshmen David Richard and Jaren Hayes- lived up to the hype created in the preseason with a combined 311 rushing yards on 33 carries. The impressive ground attack provided a perfect complement to Rogers, who finished with 138 receiving yards and one touchdown on four catches.

But the biggest surprise was sophomore tight end Eric Knott. After seeing time at defensive end last season, Knott returned to his natural position and caught six passes for 69 yards and two touchdowns.

“I’ve been waiting for this for a long time,” Knott said. “It’s been a while since I’ve been at tight end.”

If both Knott and the running game continue to progress, the Spartan offense will leave little room for concern. And the defense also looked strong, despite the fact that Eastern wasn’t much of a threat.

MSU held the Eagles to just 54 rushing yards on 20 carries, and only 241 yards of total offense. Senior strong safety Thomas Wright said it was disappointing that the Spartans gave up seven points but said the unit still did a great job.

“We looked pretty good, but we still had some mistakes made,” he said. “But a lot of young guys got out there, and that’s good.”

To be exact, 32 different Spartans saw action on defense, and 37 more found their way onto the field for offense. Williams said getting so many players experience from the start was a big key.

“I was really happy we got a chance to play a lot of players today,” Williams said after the game. “It was really good that we got these guys on the field.”

Not only did the Spartans continually platoon new players, but they all got the job done.

“It was a great feeling to see those guys step up,” Rogers said. “That shows what our team is about this year.

“It’s going to be a great season for us, and we’re looking forward to it.”


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