Monday, June 17, 2024

Reaves receives starting nod, passes for 183 yards; Stanton plays in 3rd, throws 3 times

Redshirt freshman quarterback Stephen Reaves runs the ball Saturday at Spartan Stadium. Reaves received the starting quarterback position in MSU's second game of the season against Central Michigan. Reaves passed 183 yards in the 24-7 victory over the Chippewas.

During warmups, before kickoff against Central Michigan, sophomore quarterback Drew Stanton made his coach an offer he couldn't refuse.

"Drew Stanton came up and told me, 'Coach, if you don't play me today, I'm going to kick your butt,'" head coach John L. Smith said.

Stanton, of course, was joking. But the message he sent was serious. Stanton's surgically-repaired right knee felt great before the game, he said, and he wanted the coaches to know.

"More and more, I start to get the itch to play," Stanton said. "Being in Spartan Stadium for the first time (this season) really got my emotions going. I just want to be able to get out there and play."

The Spartans (1-1) beat the Chippewas 24-7 in the home opener at Spartan Stadium.

In preseason camp, Smith inferred that Stanton would have been the season-opening quarterback had he not injured his knee in last season's Alamo Bowl.

The injury set the MSU quarterback's carousel in motion. Senior Damon Dowdell started and played throughout the Spartans' loss at Rutgers last week. Unsatisfied with Dowdell's performance, Smith chose redshirt freshman Stephen Reaves as the starter against Central.

Reaves didn't waste time in his MSU debut. On his first play from scrimmage, the southpaw hit senior tight end Eric Knott on a short out pattern, and Knott turned it upfield for a 50-yard gain.

The Spartans couldn't convert the pass to Knott into any points. Reaves, however, did guide the offense into the end zone before the end of the first quarter, throwing a 44-yard touchdown pass to junior receiver Kyle Brown.

Brown proved to be a reliable target for Reaves. He caught a career-high six passes from Reaves for 123 yards and the one touchdown.

Reaves led the Spartans to a 17-0 lead. But after the Chippewas narrowed the lead with a 90-yard touchdown run in the third quarter, Reaves failed to respond in MSU's next three possessions, gaining a total of only 19 yards.

Stanton replaced Reaves on the next offensive drive. What was left of a sold-out crowd cheered when Stanton's name was announced on the loudspeaker.

"I made an effort that at some point we're going to play Drew and see how he does and see if we can work a little rust off," Smith said.

"It wasn't that I was necessarily displeased with Stephen, it just worked at that point in time."

Stanton's knee didn't seem to bother him during the brief time that he played, and he said it felt good afterward, despite the hits he took on his two rushes.

"It was real nice to go out there and play, just in front of the fans," he said. "It was real good for me to go out there and get those hits."

Although the Spartans have played three quarterbacks in two games, a favorite still has not emerged. Reaves was 9-of-19 for 183 passing yards and one touchdown. Stanton threw the ball only three times, completing once for nine yards. Stanton also rushed twice for 43 yards.

Reaves said he played well enough to earn the start against Notre Dame this weekend.

"I didn't really make any mistakes out there," he said. "If I start next week, I hope I do better than I did today ? because I know they're going to bring a little bit better defense out for us."

Indeed, Notre Dame's defense will present a greater challenge than Central's did. The Fighting Irish's defense dominated Michigan in the second half Saturday, completing a 28-20 upset against the No. 17 Wolverines.

All three quarterbacks will be considered before next weekend's night game against the Fighting Irish, Smith said, adding he would like to have a regular starter set by the time Big Ten play starts.

"The guy that practices the best probably will end up starting," he said.

Quarterback competition in practice is, by now, commonplace for the Spartans' signal-callers. But it doesn't take the pressure off.

"It's really a QB battle every practice You have to be perfect," Reaves said. "If you're not perfect, they might lean the other way."


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