Sunday, April 14, 2024

Crushing defeat

Players agitated, Smith faults coaching staff

Junior running back Jason Teague gets wrapped up by the Ohio State defense Saturday at Spartan Stadium. Teague was held to 69 yards rushing in MSU's 32-19 loss to Buckeyes. For the second consecutive game, the Spartans could not maintain their fourth-quarter lead to win a game. MSU needs to win its last three in order to be eligible for a bowl game. —

The frustration of back-to-back stinging losses is starting to wear on the Spartans and their coach.

MSU blew a fourth-quarter lead for the second-straight game. Ohio State freshman receiver Ted Ginn Jr.'s third touchdown of the game, with less than two minutes remaining, was the difference as the Spartans lost 32-19.

MSU head coach John L. Smith, normally cooperative with the media after losses, was terse in his postgame press conference.

Smith blamed the coaches, including himself, for the loss. He did not elaborate beyond saying, "Because I said it was like that. OK?"

He then stormed out without answering further questions. In the locker room after the game, Smith also told his players the coaches were at fault, but he was not specific.

"Frustration is setting in a little bit because we're playing good against teams that we know we can beat," senior cornerback Roderick Maples said. "We're basically dominating the game and then for a play to decide us winning or losing - that's starting to get frustrating, I think, on the team."

MSU (4-5 overall, 3-3 Big Ten) now has to win its last three games to play in a bowl game. The Buckeyes (6-3, 3-3) have now won three straight and are bowl eligible.

The Spartans took a 19-17 lead when senior place-kicker Dave Rayner hit a 29-yard field goal with 3:06 remaining.

Ginn then showcased the speed that won him consecutive state titles in the 110-meter high hurdles as a high-schooler in Cleveland. He turned a short slant pattern into a 58-yard, game-winning touchdown from quarterback Troy Smith.

"We had our eye on Ginn, but we had no idea that he was going to do that to us," senior safety Jason Harmon said.

Ginn also scored two touchdowns in the first quarter, one a 17-yard rush and the other a 60-yard punt return.

MSU junior safety Eric Smith said he should have tackled Ginn on the 58-yard touchdown reception. On the play prior to Ginn's touchdown, Eric Smith said he injured his hip. He stayed in the game and had a chance to stop Ginn, but took a bad angle and could not get his hands on the speedy receiver.

"I ended up hurting the team by staying in," Eric Smith said. "Any other time, I would've made (the tackle)."

MSU senior quarterback Damon Dowdell had 1:37 to orchestrate an 80-yard touchdown drive after Ginn's score. He took the Spartans 22 yards before throwing his second interception of the game.

Ohio State running back Maurice Hall added a 51-yard touchdown run on the ensuing possession.

As they did against Michigan in a triple-overtime loss the week before, the Spartans gave a valiant effort - coming back from a 17-0 Ohio State lead - only to fall short.

Dowdell, playing for an injured Drew Stanton, was 29-of-46 passing for 262 yards, one touchdown and three interceptions. He also ran eight times for 32 yards.

"I played my heart out," Dowdell said. "I gave us a chance to win."

The MSU offense looked shaky in the first quarter, when Dowdell threw an interception that led directly to Ginn's first touchdown. But the senior signal caller composed himself and led the Spartans to 19 unanswered points.

It was not enough.

"Me, as a captain, and the other guys as captains, we can't let the guys get their spirits down," senior linebacker Ronald Stanley said. "We got three games left and we got to go out and win them all to make a bowl game."

MSU hosts No. 4 Wisconsin (9-0, 6-0) at 3:30 p.m. Saturday at Spartan Stadium.

Staff writer J. Ryan Mulcrone contributed to this report.

Joe Guillen can be reached at guillenj@msu.edu.


Buckeye comeback

The Spartans gained 100 more yards than Ohio State, but the Buckeyes made big plays in the fourth quarter to snatch the win.

MSU Ohio State
Rushing yards 145 169
Passing yards 262 138
Total offense 407 307
First downs 22 12

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