Turnovers doom Spartans: ND 31-MSU 24

"I told the team that we are all going to come in tomorrow morning to look at film from this game and we are going to be very ill," said Spartans head coach John L. Smith.

(EAST LANSING) - Detroit Lions head coach Steve Mariucci teaches every player in the organization the "five points of pressure" system to avoid fumbles. The Lions committed a league low in turning the ball over that way.

Michigan State's John L. Smith might want to have his players attend Mariucci's next session.

The Spartans committed six turnovers including two critical ones late when they had a chance to pull out a come-from-behind win. Instead it was Notre Dame who overcame two turnovers of their own to beat Michigan State in their final non conference game 31-24.

"I told the team that we are all going to come in tomorrow morning to look at film from this game and we are going to be very ill," said Spartans head coach John L. Smith.

"The turnover ratio wins you ball games," said Spartans coach John L. Smith. "That is the one stat, in my opinion, that really means a lot. Right to the very end, we had a chance (to come back); I thought we did. You can't turn over the football, plain and simple, that is the one statistic that matters."

MSU started strong when they forced Notre Dame into three and out on their first possession. The Spartans' Marshall Campbell blocked Notre Dame's punt attempt and Jerramy Scott recovered in the end zone to give the Green and White a seven point lead.

When the Spartans stuffed Notre Dame's next possession, they seemed to have momentum but starter Stephen Reaves threw the football right into the hands of Notre Dame safety Tom Zbikowski who returned it to the MSU 13-yard line.

With the Spartans making a goal line stand, Brady Quinn's naked bootleg run scored from one-yard out to tie the ballgame.

Michigan State began to self-destruct with back-to-back penalties, but Reaves hit Kyle Brown for 13 yards and then Jason Teague added an 18-yard run to get deep into Irish territory. But Teague allowed Zbikowski to take the ball out of his hands, stunning the Spartans offense and then running untouched 75 yards for the touchdown giving Notre Dame a 14-7 lead, silencing the 78,000 in attendance at Spartan Stadium.

MSU seemed to gain a measure of their composure when, after Brady Quinn connected with Maurice Shelton connected on a 53-yard pass play, Quinn tried to squeeze the ball into between defenders. The ball was tipped by safety Jason Harmon and intercepted by corner Tyrell Dortch for a touchback.

"They had a good drive going," said Dortch. "As soon as they got in the red zone, we needed a turnover. We didn't want them to kick a field goal or anything. God willing, the ball got tipped up in the air and I just made a play on it."

But Michigan State went three and out and with their defense "gassed", Quinn connected with Aaron Shelton, easily beating Rod Maples to give the Irish a 21-7 lead. MSU averted near disaster when DeAndra Cobb fumbled the ensuing kickoff but the Spartans were able to recover.

Notre Dame tried to put the ball game away by driving deep into Spartans territory but safety Jason Harmon forced a fumble and the Spartans recovered.

With the half running out and the Spartans offense sputtering, MSU attempted to open up the offense but Reaves was intercepted by Derek Curryof the Irish, killing the Spartans drive. Notre Dame missed an attempt to cash in on the turnover again, but D. J. Fitzpatrick missed an attempt from 37 yards.

MSU got the ball back and Reaves, trying to force the ball into coverage, was picked off again, his third of the half by Mike Richardson. By that time coach Smith had seen enough and Reaves was done for the night, replaced by sophomore Drew Stanton in the second half.

On State's second possesion of the second half, they put together a drive that culminated in a 41-yard Dave Rayner field goal attempt, but in what has become an uncharacteristically bad year thus far, Rayner missed wide right.

Notre Dame then took the game over. After getting the ball on the Michigan State 25-yard line after the miss, they drove 75 yards on 7 run plays with senior Ryan Grant and freshman Darius Walker gashing the Spartans defensive line for big run after big run. Grant took it in from 12 yards out to give the Irish a commanding 28-7 lead and it seemed all but over.

But the fun was just beginning.

With Notre Dame's Ty Wilingham in the dressing room reliving himself, Michigan State's DeAndra Cobb electrified the sellout crowd by taking the ensuing kickoff 91-yards to paydirt, putting the Spartans back in the game at 21-14.

"The defense came off a little slow (after Notre Dame's drive), they were down and they needed a lift," said Cobb of his return. "Coach Smith just said that we needed to go out there and give the team a boost, and that's what we did. I felt that the guys were a little more into it after that." Momentum clearly shifted to the Spartans who stuffed Notre Dame's next possession 3-and-out. MSU then drove to the Notre Dame 31 where Rayner booted a 51-yard field goal to get MSU within eleven.

The Spartans then saw a heartbreaking end to their bid to steal one from Notre Dame. With Stanton clearly in command MSU put togeter a 10-play drive, going from their own 19 yard line to the Notre Dame one-yard line before freshman Jehuu Caulcrick, who was the Spartans best back all night, fumbled on an attempt to dive in, giving the ball back to Notre Dame giving them a touchback.

"I just told [Caulcrick] not to quit," said Spartans quarterback Drew Stanton. "There are a lot of funny things that could happen with four minutes left. People were starting to step up and say, `No, we won't allow you to quit.' In this type of game you needed everyone you could get because it was a dog fight out there."

But Notre Dame couldn't stand prosperity anymore than MSU and junior running back ?? Thomas fumbled the ball back to Michigan State. With one last attempt to really make it a game, Drew Stanton rambled 15 yards on a quarterback keeper but fumbled at the end of the run giving the ball and the game to Notre Dame.

The Irish added a field goal to get to 31-17.

Stanton, now in get ready for Indiana mode, got the ball back at his own 37-yard line with :50 left and engineered a nice two minute drill drive, hitting Matt Trannon for 18 yards and Jerramy Scott for 15 more. Stanton ran it in from 8-yards out with 10 seconds remaining. Dave Rayner's on-sides kick attempt was covered by Notre Dame's Rhema McKnight to end the game.

While Reaves played reasonably well last week against Central Michigan, he looked like a fish out of water in his first taste of big time competition. Stanton on the other hand, appeared poised and at ease despite turning the ball over.

ANALYSIS: This game appeared to clear the quarterback controversy for good. Stanton (8-of-12 for 110 yards and 49 yards rushing) should get the call and appeared to stamp himself as the team leader with Reaves in reserve. Smith must clean up the mistakes, the interceptions that Reaves threw where the result of inexperience. The fumbles are a lack of concentration and covering the ball.

All the Spartans, particulary Caulcrick and Trannon appeared to carry the ball too far away from their body. This is correctable.

The Spartans nearly overcame six turnovers to beat a team that handled Michigan a week ago. Caulcrick seemed to also stamp himself as the team's top running back if he can eliminate the fumbles.

While this loss was tough to take, especially with all the turnovers, Michigan State should be able to build around the play of Stanton, Caulcrick and safety Eric Smith, who's outstanding defensive play enabled State to hang around right to the end.


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