Monday, June 17, 2024

Special teams not a factor; penalties cost 'U' 16 yards

Senior running back DeAndra Cobb faces opposition as he rushes the ball down the field Saturday in Piscatawa, N.J. Cobb finished the game with 19 total yards in the 14-19 loss to Rutgers.

Senior running back DeAndra Cobb is a constant threat to take a kickoff to the house.

Senior place-kicker Dave Rayner is a top candidate for the Lou Groza Award, given to the nation's top kicker.

Last season, the media named sophomore punter Brandon Fields to the All-Big Ten Team in only his freshman year.

The group of special teamers - which includes dozens of others, most of which serve on punt and kickoff coverage - was supposed to be a deciding factor working in the Spartans' favor against almost any opponent.

It was not exactly the case last Saturday in MSU's 19-14 loss to Rutgers.

The Spartans had a punt blocked, Rayner missed his only field goal attempt and Cobb brought out a kickoff from deep in the end zone, only returning it to the 9-yard line.

To be fair, Rayner's attempt was from 52 yards, not exactly a chip shot.

Rutgers place-kicker Jeremy Ito missed his first two field goals, but made four of his next five attempts.

His four field goals accounted for all of the Scarlet Knights' points on offense.

"After the first two I was a little down," Ito said after the game.

"But I'm glad (head coach Greg Schiano) had confidence in me to put me out there for the third, fourth and eventually seventh."

With the exception of the blocked punt and a couple penalties, MSU head coach John L. Smith said he was satisfied with special teams against Rutgers.

Twice, MSU was flagged for an illegal block on a punt return.

The two penalties cost a combined 16 yards on punt return yards.

"The penalties are unforgivable because those are not the penalties you can live with," Smith said.

"Those are just flat, plain, stupid penalties."

Smith said the blocked punt was the result of an individual breakdown, a player who missed a block which allowed Rutgers running back Markis Facyson to get a hand on the ball.

This Saturday, when Central Michigan visits Spartan Stadium, a player who once terrorized MSU's special teams will return. Central senior linebacker James King blocked four punts against the Spartans in 2001.

When Smith was asked if he recognized King's name, he replied, "Somebody I should read?"

Smith soon realized King's talent was on special teams, not literature.

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"You block four in a season, you're a heck of a punt blocker," he said.

"We must of had a scheme problem, huh?"

Looking at film from that game won't help prepare for King, Smith said.

Central head coach Brian Kelly is new this season and with a new coach comes new schemes. The Spartans beat Central in 2001, 35-21.

A hit on Tony Soprano

Actor and Rutgers alumnus James Gandolfini, who is famous for playing Tony Soprano on "The Sopranos," was at the game Saturday and spent time on the sideline.

Gandolfini's presence was greeted with applause when he was shown on the scoreboard.

After the game, Gandolfini's sport utility vehicle was hit by a suspected drunken driver who ran a red light, police on the scene reported.

Gandolfini was not injured in the accident and went to dinner with three friends afterward.

After dinner, Gandolfini returned safely to his home in New York City.

The real mystery is whether his character, patriarch/crime boss Tony Soprano, survives another season on HBO.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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