Wednesday, February 21, 2024

Spartans continue to fall, bowl bid unlikely

October 21, 2002
Sophomore safety Jason Harmon brings Minnesota wide receiver Aaron Hosack to the ground during the second quarter of MSU —

The Spartans’ season continued to plummet on the heels of a 28-7 defeat to the Golden Gophers on Saturday.

“Nothing good came out of that football game,” MSU head coach Bobby Williams said. “It was an outright awful performance.

“There’s a terrible feeling right now in the program.”

That’s because the Spartans (3-4 overall, 1-2 Big Ten) have turned a once-promising season into a potential disaster.

In the preseason, MSU was picked to finish third in the conference, and junior wide receiver Charles Rogers promised a better season than last year’s 7-5 mark.

In order to do that, the Spartans will need to win their final five games of the regular season.

“I don’t know what’s going on,” Rogers said. “Everybody knows we’re better than this, but something isn’t right.

“It’s sad to say, but we’re fighting for a bowl game right now.”

In the preseason, a bowl bid was a given. The only question seemed to be “How good of a bowl will the Spartans go to?”

But Saturday’s performance against Minnesota (7-1, 3-1) didn’t even resemble that of a bowl-bound team.

The Gophers simply ran MSU into the ground with 390 rushing yards on 60 carries - an average of 6.5 yards per carry.

Minnesota’s scheme and offensive line were credited for the impressive running performance.

The primary beneficiary of Minnesota’s scheme was Saginaw native Terry Jackson. The former standout tailback from Saginaw High School carried the ball 29 times for 238 yards.

Gopher tailback Thomas Tapeh also reaped the benefits with 147 yards and one touchdown on 25 carries.

MSU’s offensive instability also contributed to Minnesota’s success in the running game.With MSU continually going three and out, the defense was bound to get tired. And facing a bruising ground attack simply sped the process up.

“It wears on you after a while,” junior defensive end Kyle Rasmussen said. “It’s just tough when you’re on the field so much.”

Minnesota’s passing game was minimal, but perfectly timed. Gopher quarterback Asad Abdul-Khaliq only threw the ball 13 times, but connected on seven with two touchdowns for 147 yards.

MSU opened the game with a 5-play, 74-yard drive to take a 7-0 lead. Those were the Spartans’ only points of the game, and that touchdown was a penalty away from not making it to the scoreboard.

On just the third offensive play of the game, junior quarterback Jeff Smoker had his first pass intercepted and returned to the MSU 32-yard line. But a questionable roughing the passer call negated the turnover.

Smoker responded well, throwing a 52-yard strike to Rogers on the next play, which set up a 1-yard touchdown run by freshman tailback David Richard.

Smoker finished the game 17-of-29 for 229 yards. He also scrambled 11 times for 33 yards.

But the lack of a running game (26 carries for 51 yards) and penalties (six for 55 yards) prevented the Spartans from ever finding the end zone again.

“Every time we have a big play, it seems like somebody makes a mistake,” junior center Brian Ottney said. “And when you have mistakes like that you can’t expect to score points or move the ball.

“With as much talent and potential that we have in this offense it’s very disappointing.”

During the postgame interviews it was obvious that the Spartans know the team has serious issues to deal with. The only problem was that, seven games into the season, not a single Spartan could put his finger on what to do about it.

“We’ve got to make a change some way,” Rogers said. “I don’t know what changes are going to be made, but something has got to happen.”

Eric McKinney can be reached at mckinn54@msu.edu.

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