Bloomington, Ind. - After four straight blowout losses, the indefinite suspensions of two team captains and the firing of former head coach Bobby Williams, the MSU football team took out its frustrations on Indiana.
The Spartans (4-6 overall, 2-4 Big Ten) played like everyone expected them to play all season, beating the Hoosiers (3-7, 1-5) 56-21 at Memorial Stadium on Saturday. A 35-point second-quarter explosion helped MSU to its first win in more than a month.
"I've never prayed as much in my life as I prayed this week," interim head coach Morris Watts said after his debut victory. "I've never been in that position right there and the only thing I didn't want to do was something that would hurt the football team."
The Spartans moved the ball through the air and on the ground, netting 492 yards of total offense.
In his third consecutive start, sophomore quarterback Damon Dowdell accounted for five MSU touchdowns, tying an MSU single-game record with four passing scores and one rushing touchdown. He was 17-of-25 passing for 203 yards, while completing passes to six different receivers.
"Guys just came to play," Dowdell said. "I don't know where it was all season, but today everybody stepped up and came with their 'A' game.
"It makes it better when we're running the ball and we use play action. It makes everything open downfield."
More than half of Dowdell's passing yardage went to junior wide receiver Charles Rogers, who finished with five catches for 102 yards and two scores, setting the MSU record for most career touchdown catches with 25.
Freshman tailback David Richard sparked MSU's ground attack. The 6-foot-2, 230-pounder ran for a career-high 136 yards and a touchdown on 20 carries in the first start of his career.
"We told him before the game - we told him, in fact, all week - that he's no longer a freshman," Watts said. "It's time to step up and play and be the man."
Freshman tailback Jaren Hayes tacked on 88 yards and two touchdowns on 14 carries as MSU rushed for 289 yards on the ground.
Although the offense was running wild, it had help from the defense.
In the second quarter, the Spartans forced the Hoosiers to three consecutive three-and-outs and a turnover while holding them to 19 yards of total offense.
"The defense played so good today," senior right guard Paul Harker said. "Having that 40- and 50-yard field to work with every possession was really a big help and we really enjoyed that."
After Dowdell ran for the first touchdown of the game, Indiana responded with a score of its own, tying the game 7-7.
All season, the Spartans have responded to adversity poorly, but against the Hoosiers they responded with 49 consecutive points before Indiana scored again.
"I think because they went through the adversity that they went through this week, I think that they refused to let some type of adversity in the game turn it the other direction," Watts said. "We've been in that situation a few times this year and didn't seem to fight back the way that you should as a player."
With the victory, the Spartans hold on to their slim bowl hopes.
To be eligible, MSU needs to win its final two games against Purdue (4-6, 2-4) on Saturday and Penn State (7-3, 3-3) on Nov. 23.
"I think they feel good about what they did today," Watts said. "And I think they would like to go into Spartan Stadium