Spartan offense needs more precision

The Michigan State football team needs to stop dropping passes, stop missing throws and stay on the football field to avoid going 0-2 to start the 2004 season

(EAST LANSING) - Michigan State shocked and stunned its opponents last year with the precision with which it ran its offense, spreading the ball across the field with quarterback Jeff Smoker under center.

MSU hoped to continue playing that way with Smoker gone to the NFL and Drew Stanton waiting in the wings. But with Stanton's knee still bothering him, fifth-year senior Damon Dowdell took the field in the season opener against Rutgers.

Dowdell was OK, but not stellar, going 22-of-39 for 270 yards including two touchdowns and one costly interception in MSU's 19-14 loss to Rutgers. Dowdell's interception was returned for a touchdown, giving Rutgers the final margin of victory. Adding insult to injury, Dowdell missed a wide open Jerramy Scott in the end zone that would have given MSU the lead.

But Dowdell wasn't alone, Spartan receivers, including Agim Shabaj, Matt Trannon and tight end Eric Knott all dropped passes that could have sustained drives and gotten the Spartans into scoring range.

Coach John L. Smith wants the dropped passes to stop no matter who's under center.

"You have to go out and play like you practice," Smith said. "If you allow yourself to drop balls in practice, you're going to drop balls in the game. You [have to] go through every aspect of the game and that's how it's going to be."

One thing that seemingly could and should have been avoided was the number of players leaving the game due to cramps, including Dowdell's best receiver, Matt Trannon, who was unavailable with the game on the line. "We have to start taking care of ourselves a little better," said bandit Tyrell Dortch. "We've got to keep fluids in our bodies."

While no one pointed the finger at the training staff, it would seem that they would have been a little better prepared for the heat they experienced in New Jersey.

Meanwhile, Smith was still non-committal regarding who will start this Saturday's home opener against Central Michigan, but he may not have much of a choice in the matter. Smith said that freshman Stephen Reaves still doesn't have enough of a grasp of the offense.

"We're going to have to continue to grow with Stephen. He is approaching getting ready and handling it, but he isn't yet. It's just plain and simple, and how many weeks is it going to take?

"He's just not prepared yet and you don't want to put a kid in a situation where he's not going to have success. It's before his time. We have too much for him to handle right now and it was almost automatic that we went with Damon right now."

Smith said Dowdell could be the man again this Saturday. He felt Dowdell played pretty well, but could improve with another start on Saturday. He also said redshirt freshman Drew Stanton could possibly be healthy enough to give it a go.

"Damon has had a good camp," Smith said. "Give him some credit and he earned the opportunity because he was doing the best. But does Stanton work back into the mix?

"We'll have to wait and see. He was feeling much better and getting much stronger by the end of the week, but it came down to a situation where he wasn't really ready because he hasn't practiced."

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