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Spartans focused on Michigan game

October 30, 2002

Saturday’s game with Michigan marks the 94th intrastate battle and the 49th since the Spartans joined the Big Ten in 1953.

The No. 15 Wolverines (6-2 overall, 3-1 Big Ten) holds a 61-28-5 all-time edge. But MSU (3-5, 1-3) currently hold the bragging rights after last season’s memorable 26-24 victory.

While MSU fans still enjoy reminiscing about last year’s glory, the Spartans have no interest.

“It was a memorable moment, but we’ve got to move on,” senior strong safety Thomas Wright said. “The past can’t help us win.”

The Spartans appreciate the fact that former tailback T.J. Duckett’s touchdown as time expired brought the Paul Bunyan Trophy back to East Lansing, but they’re well aware of the fact MSU has had trouble hanging onto the trophy.

“It’s been since the ’60s that we’ve won back-to-back years,” junior wide receiver Charles Rogers said. “It’d be great to say we were able to do that. And I feel like we’ve got a great chance.”

The last time the Spartans successfully defended the trophy was 1967, when a 34-0 romp gave MSU its third consecutive victory. Since then, the Spartans only have won nine times.

Add in MSU’s current three-game skid and the Spartans don’t have much going their way for Saturday’s showdown in the Big House.

“Our team is in a little bit of a slump,” MSU head coach Bobby Williams said. “The past three weeks have been really tough on our team.

“I feel pressure to get this team to play better. It just so happens that this week we’re playing Michigan.”

Following Smoker

With junior quarterback Jeff Smoker indefinitely suspended, sophomore Damon Dowdell will make his third career start in Ann Arbor.

And the Spartans are confident that they can win with Dowdell at the helm, but Rogers admitted the situation is still frustrating.

“Smoker was our starting quarterback. Of course it’s going to be a distraction for us,” Rogers said. “Whatever happened to Smoker is an in-house thing, so I really can’t even comment on that.

“But Damon is our guy right now.”

Williams continued to refuse comment on why Smoker was suspended. But he again stated Smoker could still return this season.

“That was a tough decision,” he said. “But it was the best decision for him and the program.

“Jeff’s suspension remains open-ended. That means he could come back or he may not come back. It just depends.”

Williams also said that Smoker is still enrolled at MSU. He also confirmed that sophomore linebacker James Cooper and sophomore fullback Jason Bradley voluntarily left the team.

Rumblings

MSU’s downward spiral, combined with Smoker’s suspension, has many Spartans on edge.

Following the 42-24 drubbing against Wisconsin, an altercation developed in the Spartans’ locker room.

“I’m just a little frustrated right now being a senior,” Wright said after the game.

“Looking at my senior season go away like this, that’s real frustrating.”

Wright declined to comment on what happened or exactly what was said. He said teammates had things to say and called the issue “a team matter.”

But Wright insists divisions are not forming within the team.

“We’re always going to stick together. No matter what happens,” Wright said. “We’re a family and we’re going to always be a family.”

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