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Lack of kicking game looms large after loss to U-M

October 3, 2005
MSU wide receiver Kyle Brown attempts to avoid a tackle by Brandon Harrison, 27, during Saturday's game against U-M at Spartan Stadium.

The Spartans looked far from an undefeated, No. 11-ranked team Saturday when they fell to Michigan, 34-31 in overtime, amid a number of mistakes that were absent in their previous four contests.

The offense, defense, and special teams all played a rollercoaster of a game that sophomore linebacker Kaleb Thornhill called a "team loss".

"The defense made mistakes, the offense made mistakes, we all made mistakes," Thornhill said.

The Spartans offense, which averaged 49 points per game before Saturday, stuttered to start the game and were forced to punt on the opening two possessions while U-M (3-2 overall, 1-1 Big Ten) jumped out to a 14-0 first-quarter lead.

"We didn't play well (on the) defensive side of the ball, we gave up way too many (points) in the first half," MSU head coach John L. Smith said, whose record against U-M now falls to 0-3. "We didn't make a lot of plays."

"It's our job as coaches to make more plays and to get more plays. We didn't get that done so that's our fault. The kids played hard, we just have to get them better prepared where we can make more plays and win."

The MSU defense gave up a 10-play 98-yard drive on U-M's first possession, and then were torched for a 43-yard touchdown pass the next time the Wolverines had the ball.

Failure to pressure Chad Henne allowed the U-M quarterback to sit in the pocket and wait for plays to develop.

"The defense we played wasn't trying to blitz a lot, we were trying to play the coverage," senior safety Eric Smith said.

Henne was still able to pick apart that coverage defense for 256 yards and three touchdowns.

Another defensive error occurred with the score at 14-7 when junior cornerback Demond Williams was charged with a roughing the kicker penalty on a U-M field goal attempt, giving Michigan a first down and an eventual touchdown.

The Spartans defense gave up 24 points in the first half, but MSU (4-1,1-1) only found themselves down by three at the game's midpoint thanks to big plays from the offense after a slow start.

The second half took a complete role reversal.

The defense stepped up their play only allowing seven U-M points and scoring seven of their own, while the offense only scored three off a field goal.

"The second half we didn't control enough on the offensive side," Smith said. "They made more plays than we did and made more catches than we did."

The biggest failure of the second half came off a Spartans drive that lasted more than eight and a half minutes and moved the ball 90 yards, only to come away with nothing after junior kicker John Goss missed a 23-yard field goal.

"We needed to get out there and we needed to play and we had to execute as an offense to be successful," junior quarterback Drew Stanton said. "We had too many opportunities get away from us."

Goss missed a 37-yard field goal kick in overtime, which allowed the Wolverines to come away with the win.

"We had a good chance this year, and if certain plays go a different way, we come out with a win," Eric Smith said. "It's just mental mistakes."

Senior receiver Kyle Brown saw the game as a situation where players were trying to do too much.

"(We were) trying to do more than we needed to instead of trying to just take it a play at a time," he said. "We were ready all week, we had good practices, but when it came time to play in the game, we didn't feel like we played as hard as we could."

A big day for Peko

Senior defensive lineman Domata Peko recovered a Henne fumble and scored a 74-yard touchdown in the fourth quarter to tie the game at 31.

What made it even more special for Peko was that his mother, father, and brother had flown in from Samoa to watch the game.

"A 15-hour flight to come see me play, that really helped me out today," Peko said.

Moving on

The Spartans have no game next week due to their annual bye.

Senior center Chris Morris said it's important for the team to put this loss behind them.

"We're going to look at this film tomorrow, and probably throw up a few times, and get moving on," he said.

The Spartans return to action Oct. 15 at Ohio State.

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