Sunday, February 25, 2024

Knott, McKinney doubtful; Dortch questionable

Shabaj insists he's not 5-foot-6, claims 5-9 status

September 9, 2003
Freshman punter Brandon Fields punts the ball to Western on August 30 at Spartan Stadium. Fields was named Big Ten special teams player of the week after MSU's 44-28 win over Rutgers. —

It's only the third week of the season, but the injuries have already started to mount for the MSU football team.

Junior tight end Eric Knott and junior defensive tackle Brandon McKinney are listed as out for Saturday's game against Louisiana Tech, although head coach John L. Smith is not certain of that status. Junior running back Tyrell Dortch, bandit Robert Flagg and free safety Greg Cooper are all listed as probable.

Both Knott and McKinney sat out Sunday's practice session, while Dortch participated in the running exercises.

"(Dortch) ran yesterday and he seems to be ready to go," Smith said.

Luckily for the Spartans, they are deep at most of those positions. Junior tight end Jason Randall will start again.

Junior Greg Yeaster and senior Kyle Rasmussen will start at defensive tackle, with juniors Matthias Askew and Kevin Vickerson backing them up.

Smith believes that Flagg and Cooper have recovered and could play this weekend.

"We're knocking on wood that they'll be back and ready to go," Smith said. "I don't see any reason why they couldn't be."

How big is he?

One thing is clear: Agim Shabaj has been the star of the MSU receiving corps so far this season.

Shabaj has three touchdown catches so far, including a touchdown with 145 yards on seven catches Saturday.

When asked if Shabaj was the go-to guy, Smith said, "I would think he is. Quarterbacks have a tendency to develop a go-to guy. It depends on who they like. It's amazing that the quarterbacks seem to throw the ball to the guy who's going to catch it."

Shabaj proved that the coaching staff has faith in his versatility when he was asked to throw one pass, which was intercepted, and return the final kickoff.

Smith said that the wide receiver would be considered as a punt returner this week after senior Ziehl Kavanaght only gained 23 yards on four attempts on Saturday.

But the question of how tall the sophomore is still remains. He is listed as 5-foot-10, but that fact was questioned this week.

"The truth about my size is I'm 5-9, or 5-9 and 1/4," Shabaj said Saturday. "I'm not 5-6 like coach said in the paper this week. He laughed about it, but it's not funny."

Fields of dreams

Redshirt freshman punter Brandon Fields was named the Big Ten's Special Teams Player of the Week.

Fields averaged 52.3 yards per punt, including a 74 yarder that was downed on the four-yard line on Saturday.

Smoker ties another record

After throwing three touchdown passes on Saturday, senior quarterback Jeff Smoker moved into a tie for first place in career passing touchdowns at MSU.

He is tied with Bill Burke with 46. He also is now fourth in career completions with 425. He is 42 short of Jim Miller's record of 467.

Smoker is now averaging 328 yards passing per game, more than 80 ahead of the next highest Big Ten quarterback.

Mitchell returns

Sophomore Seth Mitchell returned from chronic knee problems and impressed many of his teammates with his play Saturday.

He had four tackles in the game, but his hard hitting caused his teammates to rave.

"In the fourth quarter, he hit the fullback so hard that the running back running behind him fell down along with the guard," senior bandit Monquiz Wedlow said. "He's the Ray Lewis of our defense."

The run-stoppers

After allowing Rutgers -2 yards rushing, the MSU defense has now allowed only four yards rushing all season.

Only two other Big Ten teams have allowed less than 200 rushing yards, with Ohio State allowing 35 and Purdue giving up 50 in only one game.

Tickets still available

About 2,000 tickets are still available for Saturday's game against Louisiana Tech. If the game does sell out, it will be the 29th consecutive sell out at Spartan Stadium.

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