Bulldogs Come Up Short Against Michigan State, 44-35.
Dec 31, 2001
By GREG BEACHAM
SAN JOSE, Calif. - Charles Rogers set a Michigan State record with 270 yards receiving - and he wasn't even the most prolific pass-catcher on the field at the Silicon Valley Football Classic.
It was that kind of a day in San Jose, as Rogers caught two of Jeff Smoker's three touchdown passes during the Spartans' phenomenal first half in a 44-35 victory over Fresno State on Monday.
In a matchup of two potent offenses that combined for 1,146 total yards, Smoker and Rogers outdueled Fresno State's high-profile combo of David Carr and Rodney Wright, who finished with 13 catches for a school-record 299 yards and two TDs.
After an inconsistent season in which they finished eighth in the Big Ten and barely qualified for a bowl, the Spartans (7-5) gained 405 yards and scored 37 points before halftime.
Carr threw for 531 yards to Smoker's 376, but the Spartans' big early lead proved too large to overcome. After Fresno State (11-3) pulled within two points in the final minutes, the Spartans made one last scoring drive to clinch their second bowl victory under coach Bobby Williams.
T.J. Duckett rushed for 184 yards and two scores as Michigan State overwhelmed the Bulldogs, whose high-octane offense was expected to dominate the game. Instead, Fresno State ended its breakout season with its first loss in four games against teams from BCS conferences.
Carr, who won the Johnny Unitas award as the nation's top senior quarterback, ended his prolific career with another amazing game, but he couldn't play defense. Fresno State fell to 0-3 in bowl games during Pat Hill's otherwise successful tenure.
After the teams exchanged handshakes, Michigan State defensive end Nick
Myers, the game's defensive MVP, planted the school flag at midfield.
Trailing 37-28 with 6:52 left, Fresno State's Bryce McGill blocked Craig Jarrett's punt and returned it to the Spartans 16. Two plays later, Paris Gaines caught a screen pass and ran through several blocks for a TD.
But Michigan State came alive once again for a 77-yard drive. After a 43-yard reception by Rogers, Smoker hit Ivory McCoy for a 5-yard TD with 1:59 left.
After just two seasons, this unassuming lower-tier bowl game is building a reputation for exciting, bizarre football. Last season, the Bulldogs overcame a 27-point deficit, but lost the inaugural game to Air Force when a superbly executed fake field goal failed in the closing seconds.
Though Spartan Stadium was dominated by thousands of red-clad fans who made the two-hour drive from Fresno, Michigan State had a large rooting section of transplanted Michiganders and thousands of fans who made the trip for the bowl and the Michigan State basketball team's game against Stanford last Saturday.
Fresno State opened the frenzied first half by driving 63 yards in four plays for the first TD just 59 seconds in. Less than eight minutes later, Michigan State replied with a 72-yard TD pass from Smoker to Rogers.
Offensive milestones fell faster than snow in East Lansing on a surprisingly warm, dry day after a week of rain in the San Francisco Bay area.
In the first quarter alone, the Spartans had the longest rush in the school's bowl history, the second-longest pass in their bowl history, their longest field goal of the season and their first defensive touchdown of the year.
With a 69-yard TD pass to Rogers 3:05 before halftime, Michigan State went ahead 37-21. The teams combined for 752 total yards in the first half.