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A hard day's night

6 turnovers, dropped balls prove costly

September 20, 2004
Saturday's game against Notre Dame was only the fifth night game in the history of Spartan Stadium.

The MSU offense turned the ball over six times, the wide receivers dropped passes and an offensive touchdown wasn't scored until the last minute of the game.

"I told the team that we are all going to come in tomorrow morning to look at film from this game, and we are going to be very ill," MSU head coach John L. Smith said after Saturday's 31-24 loss to Notre Dame.

MSU's turnover troubles started less than seven minutes into the game, when redshirt freshman quarterback Stephen Reaves threw one of his three interceptions of the night. Reaves did not throw an interception last week against Central Michigan, and Smith said he was not happy about the interceptions.

The Spartans' second turnover came with seven seconds left in the first quarter, when Notre Dame safety Tom Zbikowski stripped the ball from MSU junior running back Jason Teague's arms. Zbikowski then ran 75 yards for a Fighting Irish touchdown.

"Two of those turnovers turned into touchdowns," MSU junior wide receiver and captain Kyle Brown said. "The first gave them great field position, and the second one, they just took the ball and ran it in - that's 14 points right there.

"Take those two turnovers away, it's a whole different ball game."

Reaves was also intercepted on MSU's last two possessions of the first half, but neither resulted in any points for Notre Dame. It did, however, result in Smith inserting sophomore quarterback Drew Stanton to start the second half.

While he did not throw an interception, Stanton had his own problems but said the health of his knee was not one of them.

Stanton's first snap from scrimmage was a miscommunication between himself and junior center Chris Morris, which resulted in a fumble. But the Spartans recovered. Stanton struggled through the third quarter, going 1-for-3 for zero yards passing and fumbled once in the fourth quarter - a play in which he thought he was down.

"I was just trying to get down. I'm not one to slide because I don't like to expose myself," Stanton said. "I thought I was down, but unfortunately I wasn't."

Another fumble came from freshman running back Jehuu Caulcrick at the goal line. Caulcrick dove toward the end zone but was hit in mid-air and fumbled. Notre Dame recovered for the touchback.

"You're not going to play running back (at MSU) if you fumble the football," Smith said.

In total, the Spartans offense had five dropped passes, four fumbles (three lost) and three interceptions. All of those plays resulted in missed opportunities to score points and gain yards.

The players know how important it is to hang onto the ball. Smith said the game could have been different even if the Spartans only had four or five turnovers.

"You saw how important it was - it cost us the game," senior running back DeAndra Cobb said. "It's just tough luck."

After the game, at least three Spartans said mistakes are going to happen every game, but the players who make the mistakes need to just put it behind them and move onto the next play.

The MSU offense managed only 10 points, all in the fourth quarter of the game, which was another frustration, especially to Brown. He said the team needs to play better at the beginning of the game and get into a flow to play better.

"We need to come out the gates like we came out that last quarter," Brown said. "We just aren't playing like the offense can play right now."

"We just keep hurting ourselves."


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