Injuries keep Michigan
State fans in suspense

This is the final article in a series of 12 on Hawaii's opponents for the 2004 season.

It appears you can trust John L. Smith with a secret. Or, at least, he can trust himself with one.

As of yesterday, the Michigan State football coach was still doing a good job of keeping Spartans fans in suspense. He had yet to announce his starting quarterback for tomorrow's season opener at Rutgers, although Smith said he knows who it will be.

Michigan State Spartans

Basic offense: Spread
Basic Defense: Multiple 4-3
2003 Record: 8-5 (5-3 Big Ten)
Lettermen Ret./Lost: 44/21
Starters Ret./Lost: 16/8
Head coach: John L. Smith (118-65)

Sophomore Drew Stanton was considered the leading candidate to replace departed three-year starter Jeff Smoker going into camp. But Stanton's recovery from a knee injury suffered in last season's Alamo Bowl hasn't been complete, leaving the door open for senior Damon Dowdell and second-year freshman Stephen Reaves. Dowdell has the most game experience, with six starts.

In addition to Stanton, five other projected starters missed practice time during the preseason with minor injuries.

"Our progress has been slow over the last three weeks because too many key players have missed valuable practice time," Smith said. "With our injury situation, we've been forced to bounce players around and prepare some for multiple positions. It's difficult for a team to develop when it doesn't have its full complement of players. It's tough to establish any type of consistency with so many key guys out of the lineup. The offense probably has suffered the most because it only takes one weak link to ruin an entire play."

Lack of experience and depth -- especially on the lines -- could prevent Michigan State from repeating what some considered an overachieving 8-5 record in Smith's first season as Spartans head coach. Thirty-five of the roughly 100 Spartans in preseason camp are first-year players.

Smith wonders if his team is tough enough. Cool weather and new rules made camp something less strenuous than he would have liked.

"With the NCAA prohibiting consecutive days of double sessions, preseason camp isn't nearly the mental and physical grind it used to be," Smith said. "I wish I were a player again because this practice schedule has been a picnic.

"I hope this team learns how to practice with a sense of urgency. I firmly believe that players play like they practice. Players can't simply hit the light switch on game day and perform at a higher level. We're going to be in trouble if these players don't develop that sense of urgency."

Junior Jason Harmon and senior Eric Smith can try to help impose the coach's will, as they comprise one of the nation's best safety tandems. But most of the squad is rebuilding, so it might not matter what they say or do.

The two top rushers of a year ago, Jaren Hayes (609 yards) and Tyrell Dortch (279) were moved to defense. Hayes will back up the safeties, and Dortch shifts to linebacker. Senior Ron Stanley also returns at linebacker.

Seniors Greg Taplin at rush end and Kyle Rasmussen at tackle have the most experience up front.

Former linebacker Jehuu Caulcrick moves to running back, where he figures to share time with Jason Teague and DeAndra Cobb. Cobb is also a fine kick returner.

They'll run behind an inexperienced offensive line that is anchored by sophomore left tackle Stefon Wheeler.

Wide receiver could be a strong point, with junior Agim Shabaj and 6-foot-6 Matt Trannon.

Junior Dave Rayner is considered one of the better kickers in the conference, and second-year freshman Brandon Fields will punt.

Michigan State Athletics

University of Hawaii Athletics

Date Opponent Result
Aug. 30 Western Michigan W, 26-21
Sept. 6 Rutgers W, 44-28
Sept. 13 Louisiana Tech L, 20-19
Sept. 20 at Notre Dame W, 22-16
Sept. 27 at Iowa W, 20-10
Oct. 4 Indiana W, 31-3
Oct. 11 at Illinois W, 49-14
Oct. 18 at Minnesota W, 44-38
Nov. 1 Michigan L, 27-20
Nov. 8 at Ohio State L, 33-23
Nov. 15 at Wisconsin L, 56-21
Nov. 22 Penn State W, 32-23
Dec. 29 Nebraska W, 17-3*

*Alamo Bowl

Date Opponent
Sept. 4 at Rutgers
Sept. 11 Central Michigan
Sept. 18 Notre Dame
Sept. 25 at Indiana
Oct. 2 at Iowa
Oct. 9 Illinois
Oct. 16 Minnesota
Oct. 30 at Michigan
Nov. 6 Ohio State
Nov. 13 Wisconsin
Nov. 20 at Penn State
Dec. 4 at Hawaii



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