Thursday, February 29, 2024

Dowdell struggles at start, rallies in second half

October 28, 2002
MSU sophomore quarterback Damon Dowdell looks to pass to junior wide receiver Charles Rogers during the third quarter of the MSU vs. Wisconsin football game at Spartan Stadium on Saturday. —

It was a different quarterback taking the snaps, but the result was the same for MSU.

The Spartans (3-5 overall, 1-3 Big Ten) dropped their third consecutive game 42-24 against the Wisconsin Badgers (6-3, 1-3) in front of a national television audience Saturday night.

And Saturday’s spotlight was firmly fixed upon sophomore signal caller Damon Dowdell following Thursday’s announcement that junior quarterback Jeff Smoker was indefinitely suspended for violating unspecified team rules.

“I thought he came in and stepped up to the challenge,” senior strong safety Thomas Wright said of Dowdell. “I told him after the game that he did a real good job.”

The 6-foot-1, 211-pounder from Detroit completed 14-of-24 passes for 162 yards, two touchdowns and one interception. He also utilized his nimble feet on 11 carries for 62 yards.

“It was very disappointing losing at home,” Dowdell said. “I don’t think I played really well since we came out with a loss.”

MSU head coach Bobby Williams also wasn’t pleased with the final outcome. But he said Dowdell’s performance, specifically in the second half, was solid.

Dowdell completed seven passes in each half, but did so with just nine attempts in the second half.

But Williams also said Dowdell’s first-half struggles weren’t necessarily his fault. He pointed to sophomore tight end Eric Knott’s drop, ended the Spartans’ first drive of the game, and senior wide receiver Ziehl Kavanaght’s drop that ended their second drive.

“If we catch those two passes maybe his start would have been a lot better,” Williams said. “He played a lot better in the second half. He got some things going and moved the ball down the field.”

Even Dowdell admitted it was hard to establish any sort of offensive momentum early.

“When you can’t get in a rhythm it’s tough,” he said. “I was kind of frustrated, but I didn’t want to show it with the team.”

But Knott, a former teammate of Dowdell’s at Henry Ford High, said he made sure the Spartan frontman knew the drops weren’t his fault.

“He seemed confident. He seemed relaxed,” Knott said. “He didn’t seem nervous. He didn’t seem timid about making plays.

“I think he did great. As we get more reps we’re going to get more comfortable with him.”

Knott said he has an entirely new level of confidence in the offense with Dowdell under the center. And that feeling was abundant as Dowdell connected with seven different Spartans.

Knott added that Dowdell’s ability to elude defenders and make plays when things break down adds a new wrinkle to the offense.

But Dowdell couldn’t avoid every Badger blitz, as Wisconsin claimed its only sack late in the fourth quarter. But once was enough, as Dowdell left the game with a sprained right ankle.

Redshirt freshman Aaron Alexander took the final three snaps of the game for MSU. He finished the game 1-of-3 for 44 yards, one touchdown and one interception.

But despite leaving the game on crutches, Dowdell insisted he’ll be ready to play next week in Ann Arbor.

“It’s just a sprain,” he said. “I’ll be ready to go.”

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