Sunday, February 25, 2024

Comeback spurs win

Spartans overtake Rutgers during 1,000th game, 44-28

MSU running back Jaren Hayes hugs wide receiver Aaron Alexander after scoring a touchdown Saturday during MSU's football game vs. Rutgers. MSU beat Rutgers 44-28. —

MSU attacked from every angle Saturday against Rutgers, but despite putting up 44 points, the victory was anything but easy.

It took the Spartans almost 28 minutes to grab the lead from the Scarlet Knights, who opened up the scoring early with a 65-yard passing touchdown just two-and-a-half minutes into the game.

Head coach John L. Smith wasn't comfortable with the 44-28 win after the early deficit, citing the immediate need for improvement in practice and elimination of mistakes.

"I wasn't pleased with our practice this week," Smith said after the game. "There were some distractions. We made three crucial mistakes which gave them 21 points. We can't afford to do that. We must become more disciplined."

Not only did the Spartans (2-0) turn the ball over three times, including an interception Rutgers returned for a touchdown, but the team also committed 13 penalties, totaling 113 yards.

Senior quarterback Jeff Smoker led the Spartans in their come-from-behind win. Smoker completed 21 of his 32 passes for 351 yards and three touchdowns. It was the sixth time in his career he eclipsed 300 yards.

Smoker said he was happy with the way the team came back to grab the victory after trailing three times in the first half.

"It's positive to know we fought back," Smoker said. "We have to keep guys headed in the right direction, no matter what the scoreboard says. After they scored, we just said, 'they got one, now let's get ours.'

"We made some big plays to get back in it."

The Spartans and the Scarlet Knights traded touchdowns for most of the first half with Rutgers leading each time. The teams were tied at 21 until Monquiz Wedlow's interception opened up the second half, setting the score at 28-21 and starting a Spartan run of 27 straight points.

They never looked back. Senior defensive end Greg Taplin and his linemates also were impressive, holding their opponents to less than 10 rushing yards for the second straight week. But he said he was surprised by the passing game of Rutgers, which was opposite of what the Spartans expected.

"Last week we played for the pass and (Western) ran and this week we played for the run and (Rutgers) passed," Taplin said.

The Scarlet Knights finished with 266 yards passing but totaled an embarrassing negative 2 yards on the ground. Rutgers head coach Greg Schiano said his team played well, but MSU proved to be overwhelming in the end.

"That was a very talented team that we played against," Schiano said. "There's a lot of talent on that sideline. I thought our kids went toe-to-toe with them and did a great job. We made some mistakes that a young team makes and I think they did a very good job coaching."

Jon Malavolti can be reached at malavol2@msu.edu.

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