Wednesday, February 28, 2024

Downward spiral

Defense cant stop run in third consecutive loss

October 28, 2002
Sophomore tight end Eric Knott and Wisconsin defensive back Ryan Aiello dive on top of senior wide receiver BJ Lovett after Wisconsin defensive back Jim Leonhard tackled him Saturday at Spartan Stadium. The Spartans lost 42-24. —

The MSU football team practiced differently, had a new quarterback under center, and preached about showing toughness, but nothing changed.

In an attempt to separate itself from the Big Ten’s cellar, the Spartans (3-5 overall, 1-3 Big Ten) turned in another dismal performance in a 42-24 loss to Wisconsin at Spartan Stadium on Saturday night.

Head coach Bobby Williams said more than one thing has sent his team to its third straight conference loss.

“It’s everything,” he said. “We couldn’t stop the run. We ran it a little better, but not good enough. No big plays on offense. Too many big plays on defense.”

The Spartans also were plagued by undisciplined penalties - 10 for 96 yards. Junior center Brian Ottney, a co-captain, was benched for the rest of the second quarter after committing a 15-yard personal foul penalty.

In his first start of the season, sophomore quarterback Damon Dowdell completed 14-of-24 passes for 162 yards with two touchdowns and an interception before spraining his ankle in the fourth quarter.

“I feel like he did a good job for his first time out,” junior split end Charles Rogers said. “I think he came in there and he handled the situation best as he could.”

Dowdell, who started working with the first team on Thursday, didn’t get much help from the defense.

The Spartans run defense was again porous. After Minnesota rushed for 390 yards last week, the Badgers grinded out 313 yards on the ground. Wisconsin tailback Anthony Davis led the way, rushing for 170 yards on 29 carries. He had 120 yards by halftime.

“He’s a short quick back, and it’s always trouble trying to catch those speedy guys like that,” sophomore linebacker Ronald Stanley said. “They hide behind their linemen and they can get away easy.”

Badger backup tailback Dwayne Smith added 110 yards and a touchdown, marking the second straight week the Spartans allowed two backs to rush for at least 100 yards.

Wisconsin quarterback Brooks Bollinger terrorized the Spartans’ defense, leading the Badgers to touchdowns on three consecutive drives in the first quarter. He scored on a one-yard quarterback sneak and a 7-yard scramble to cap drives of 68 and 46 yards. A 3-yard pass to tight end Mark Bell made the score to 21-0.

Bollinger finished with 10-of-18 passing for 135 yards and three touchdowns, while running for 58 yards and two scores.

At halftime the Spartans trailed 28-3, leaving them in a painfully familiar position.

“If we just would have reversed halves and started the second half at the beginning of the game it could have been a different outcome,” Williams said.

The Spartans controlled the ball for 11:15 of the third quarter and cut the lead to 35-17. But MSU couldn’t get any closer.

“I really don’t know how we’re going to get out of this tailspin,” Rogers said. “I don’t know when it’s going to get turned around. Hopefully soon.”

The Spartans next game is against Michigan (6-2, 3-1) on Saturday in Ann Arbor.

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