Dantonio Sums up the Champs Sports Bowl Best: "We Were Our Own Worst Enemy!"

Hondo S. Carpenter

December 28, 2007

Orlando, Florida

Champs Sports Bowl

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With a winter storm brewing back in Mid-Michigan, the Spartan football team came into today’s Champs Sports Bowl as hot as the Florida sun. MSU’s best all around player Devin Thomas showed his stuff by taking the kickoff 79-yards and setting the Spartans up for a TD pass from Brian Hoyer to Kellen Davis three plays later and a 7-0 lead.

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Make no mistake about it, the loss of All-American Jonal Saint-Dic was huge, but the Spartans came after perhaps the best NFL prospect at QB in the nation (BC QB Matt Ryan) by pinning their ears back. There is no doubt of Ryan’s ability, but without time his WR’s are suspect at having to make catches and the Spartans game plan was to exploit that.

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The Eagles didn’t want to be in this game and based upon their fan attendance and lack of emotion it showed. The Spartans on the other hand are a resurgent program under first year head coach Mark Dantonio and they were thrilled to be in Orlando and based upon the green and white of the Spartan Nation, so were the fans.

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Mark Dantonio showed early that he had confidence in his Spartans and wasn’t afraid on national TV to demonstrate it. With 9:35 left in the first quarter he went for it on 4th and 7 on the BC 35 and was unable to convert. His defense, however, let the nation know they had his back by stopping the Eagles promptly. Ervin Baldwin (G Ball) chased BC QB Matt Ryan all over the field and the swarming and attacking Spartan D was in business and gave the Spartan offense back the ball at their own 36!

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The Spartans first mistake of the day was a Brian Hoyer interception in the endzone when he tried to thread the needle between three Eagle defensive backs. The Eagles took the interception back 38 yards to their own 38, but the Spartan Defense held strong and forced the Eagles with a three and out. The Spartans got the ball back at their own 11, but screwed up again with a fumble on the QB-Center exchange on the first play giving the Eagles yet another chance only this time at the Spartan 10.

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The Spartans had all the momentum even after the interception because they held the Eagles to a three and out, but the second mistake was just too huge for the Spartan D to keep the Eagles off of the scoreboard. The Eagles are too good of a team to give multiple chances to and they tied the game at seven with a one-yard TD strike by Ryan. Take nothing away from the Eagles, but the Spartans had opened the door and let them into a game that they owned with too many mistakes.

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With 8:54 left in the half the Eagles took the lead 14-7 on a Matt Ryan 29yard TD strike. The Spartans needed to respond immediately to the Eagles as the much larger MSU crowd had been silenced and it was time for the Spartan offense to show up! They didn’t and the Spartans went cold!

The Spartans offense finally was able to muster a Brett Swenson 39-yard field goal and that made it 14-10. Moments later when the Spartans got an interception with 1:29 left in the first half they could do nothing. Hoyer had a first and ten at the Eagle 27, but promptly threw an interception (second of the game) on first down. That essentially ended the first half with the Spartans down only 14-10, but clearly the Eagles had all the momentum early and the offense lost it. It was the defense that had risen to stellar status in the first half and the fact that they were in the game was credit to them.

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The Spartan D once again rose to the occasion to start the second half shutting down the Eagles and the Spartans ran the ball right down the BC Eagles throat. When facing a 4th and 1 at the BC 9 with 10:30 left in the third quarter, again Dantonio showed people what he thinks of his team as he went for it and got the first down.Â

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The Spartans moved the ball 54 yards on 11 plays for the drive and ran on 10 of the 11 plays. The drive culminated in a 23-yard Swenson field goal making it 14-13 BC with 8:21 to go in the third. The scary part of the drive however was the Spartans took the ball out of Hoyer’s hands on the first 10 plays (all runs) and on the 11th, he stared down his receiver and had it batted down; it could have been intercepted.

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On the ensuing Spartan drive Hoyer again starred down his receiver and threw his third interception of the game giving the Eagles the ball deep inside the Spartan territory. The Spartan D once again shined as they stopped the Eagles and gave their anemic offense back the ball.

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The Spartans were able to get as close as 24-21, but the victory was not to be when Brian Hoyer threw his fourth interception of the game to end the Spartans final drive. I want to make it abundantly clear that I don’t believe in moral victories. This was a huge disappointment because it was a game that many gave us no chance of winning and it was a game that the Spartans clearly should have won.

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Hoyer had four interceptions, and was involved in a fifth turnover that gave momentum to the Eagles early with the fumble on the exchange. It certainly wasn’t the ‘O’ line fault as they yielded no sacks and blocked for 172 yards in net rushing. They were huge. It wasn’t the defense’s fault because they simply played their hearts out.

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BC was unmotivated for this game and it showed, but they should have been in a BCS game and the Spartan defense (missing key contributors) certainly didn’t cost them the game.

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There were dropped passes, but tonight Brian Hoyer simply didn’t play well and BC is too good of team to beat with five turnovers. This certainly is a disappointing way to end the season, but it was a successful season and we can build on that.

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I think this game gave the Spartan Nation a lot of answers, but it also pointed to some glaring questions. Ones on both side of the ball.Â

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Mark Dantonio summed up the Spartans performance tonight best, when he said, “We were our own worst enemy.” I am certain we’ll look back excited for the resurgence of the MSU football program this season. The joy will, however, hurt with what was a chance to send a message against a top 15 team and a game we should have won. A message that didn’t get sent. That hurts.Â

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Am I the only one excited about 2008? I think not. It has been a long time since the Spartans ended a season with hope. With vision. With promise. Yeah, this hurts, but I sure like where we are headed. 7-6 was a good year…this year. Let’s get on the road recruiting and get on to 2008.

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There will be a lot of criticism for Brian Hoyer and rightfully so. He played poorly. It is also fair to remember that without Hoyer for those last two games, the Spartans wouldn’t be here. The Spartans lost tonight. All of us!

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