Monday, June 17, 2024

Receivers key in rivalry with Irish

Junior wide receiver Kyle Brown gets brought down while returning a punt Saturday at Spartan Stadium. Brown made four returns for 31 yards and also had 123 receiving yards with a touchdown in MSU's 24-7 victory.

The MSU-Notre Dame rivalry has a way of putting wide receivers in the limelight.

Charles Rogers, Herb Haygood and Arnaz Battle are among the receivers whose names recently have been carved into history.

As the Spartans attempt to beat the Irish for the seventh time in eight years at 7 p.m. Saturday in Spartan Stadium, junior receiver Kyle Brown pictures himself as capable of providing the big offensive play that often decides this rivalry.

"As an athlete, I think you have to have that imagination to know that you can, if it comes down to it; you're going to be that man to make the big play," Brown said.

MSU's win last season at Notre Dame was marked more by defensive plays, but in past years, wide receivers have been the difference.

Rogers is remembered for his legendary touchdown catch in the closing minutes against the Irish in 2002 and for the game-winning touchdown one year earlier.

The 2002 catch is almost guaranteed to be replayed during Saturday night's broadcast on ESPN.

Rogers leapt almost backward, snagged the ball and landed, as if he instinctively knew where the goal line was - his foot mere centimeters in-bounds.

For a few moments after the catch, it seemed Rogers would win the Notre Dame game for the second straight year.

But Battle caught a 60-yard touchdown pass thirty seconds later, giving Notre Dame a 21-17 win and crushing the Spartans' chances.

In 2000, Haygood caught the game-winning touchdown with less than two minutes left from then-freshman Jeff Smoker.

This season's installment of the rivalry is drawing new attention since Notre Dame upset No. 17 Michigan last weekend, 28-20.

Brown seems poised for a big day against the Fighting Irish (1-1). He had a career-high six catches, 123 yards and one touchdown in the win against Central Michigan last weekend.

On Monday, redshirt freshman Stephen Reaves, the quarterback with whom Brown became so familiar, was named the starter.

Brown was Reaves' favorite target against the Chippewas.

"Kyle was great today," Reaves said after Saturday's game. "We were really reading each other well."

Head coach John L. Smith called Central the best game of Brown's career at MSU.

Brown agreed, hesitantly.

"It could have been better, there's always room for improvement," he said.

"I didn't play that much in the second half - I started cramping. I can always do better."

Brown has a habit of deflecting attention from himself. Since his performance against Central, Brown has been asked repeatedly whether he is the team's new go-to receiver.

It's not a title he's entirely comfortable with.

"You never know, I might not have as good a game next Saturday," he said.

"We have the receivers to have a big game like I had last week. It would be good if we all have a game like that."

Only one team, however, will walk away Saturday night with its second win of the season. Brown knows the team that makes the big plays probably will end up on top.

"I know when we played them last year, we had one more big play than they had," he said. "You never know, anything can happen on Saturday."


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