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Spartan Football Reaches 1000-Game Milestone Against Rutgers

Sept. 5, 2003

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DATE: Sept. 6, 2003
SITE: Spartan Stadium (72,027/natural grass)
KICKOFF: 3:40 p.m. EDT (ESPN Plus)
ESTIMATED ATTENDANCE: 72,027 (sold out)
LAST WEEK: Michigan State defeated Western Michigan, 26-21; Rutgers defeated Buffalo, 24-10.
BROADCAST COVERAGE: Radio - The Spartan Radio Network, featuring veteran play-by-play announcer George Blaha, color analyst Bill Burke, sideline reporter Will Tieman and broadcast host Mike Kamin, will broadcast the game to 35 affiliates throughout the state. Michigan State football broadcasts can be heard locally on flagship station WJIM (AM 1240, FM 97.5). Television - ESPN Plus will televise the Michigan State-Rutgers game live on a regional basis, with Mark Malone handling the play-by-play and John Congemi providing color commentary.

Michigan State's John L. Smith (Weber State 1971) is 1-0 (1.000) in his first year with the Spartans and 111-60 (.649) in 15 seasons as a college head coach. He ranks No. 13 among active NCAA I-A football coaches with 111 career wins. Smith came to Michigan State following five seasons at Louisville (1998-2002) where he put together a 41-21 worksheet (.661), including five-straight bowl appearances and back-to-back C-USA titles in 2000-01. He posted a 16-18 ledger (.471) in three seasons at Utah State (1995-97) while leading the Aggies to consecutive Big West Conference crowns in 1996-97. His six-year mark of 53-21 (.716) at Idaho (1989-94) included five NCAA I-AA playoff appearances and five Top 20 finishes.

Rutgers' Greg Schiano (Bucknell 1988) is 4-20 (.167) in his third year with the Scarlet Knights. Schiano arrived at Rutgers following a two-year stint at Miami-Fla. (1999-2000) where he served as defensive coordinator under Butch Davis. He helped the Hurricanes to a combined record of 20-5 (.800), including an 11-1 mark in 2000 and a No. 2 ranking in the final Associated Press and USA Today/ESPN polls. Schiano previously spent three years as an assistant coach with the National Football League's Chicago Bears (1996-98). He also worked for five years under Joe Paterno at Penn State (1991-95) where he coached the defensive backfield.

Michigan State (after one game):
Rushing - Tyrell Dortch (16 carries for 58 yards, 3.6 avg., 0 TDs)
Passing - Jeff Smoker (21 of 34 for 324 yards, 3 TDs, 2 INTs)
Receiving - Agim Shabaj (6 catches for 89 yards, 14.8 avg., 2 TDs)
Tackles - Mike Labinjo (12 tackles, 9 solos, 3 assists, 1 sack, 1 interception)

Rutgers (after one game):
Rushing - Justise Hairston (19 carries for 88 yards, 4.6 avg., 1 TD)
Passing - Ryan Hart (21 of 31 for 225 yards, 1 TD, 0 INTs)
Receiving - Tres Moses (5 catches for 47 yards, 9.4 avg., 1 TD)
Tackles - Nate Jones (9 tackles, 6 solos, 3 assists)

In its 107th season of football, Michigan State reaches the 1,000-game milestone Sept. 6 against Rutgers. It's only fitting that the Scarlet Knights are the Spartans' opponent for this bench mark, since Rutgers played host to Princeton in the first-ever college game on Nov. 6, 1869.

Twenty-seven years later, Michigan Agricultural College made its football debut against Lansing High School on Sept. 26, 1896, at Eltom Park, located at the corner of Kalamazoo and Walnut Streets in Lansing. George Wells accounted for all 10 points (two touchdowns worth four points each and two conversions worth an additional two points each) in the Aggies' 10-0 victory over Lansing High School.

To mark the 1,000-game milestone:
* Michigan State has removed the Spartan head decals from its helmets and will wear plain green headgear.
* A commemorative patch - featuring the interlocking MAC logo and the number 1000 - has been sewn on the players' jerseys. The 1000 is stitched in gold and outlined in black to recognize Coach Charlie Bachman's teams that wore those uniform colors from 1933-46.
* The Michigan State coaching staff will wear hats and polos with the MAC 1000 logo.
* Michigan State will be referred to as Aggies on the scoreboard, instead of Spartans.
* The Spartan Marching Band will spell out MAC during the school Fight Song, instead of the customary MSU or Block S.
* The game program cover features team pictures from 1896 and 2003.

Saturday's game marks the fourth meeting between Michigan State and Rutgers. The Scarlet Knights lead the all-time series 2-1, including a 2-0 mark in games played in Spartan Stadium. The two previous games played in East Lansing, Mich., were decided by a touchdown or less. The last meeting between the two teams came on Sept. 28, 1991, with Rutgers posting a 14-7 victory in Spartan Stadium. Michigan State's only win in the series came on Sept. 29, 1990, 34-10, in Giants Stadium. The series began on Sept. 10, 1988, with the Scarlet Knights winning the season opener, 17-13 in East Lansing. (Note: For a complete list of all-time series scores, please refer to page 189 in the 2003 MSU Football Media Guide.)

Sept. 28, 1991, in East Lansing, Mich.: Tom Tarver completed 19-of-33 throws for 180 yards and two touchdowns to lead Rutgers to a 14-7 victory over Michigan State in Spartan Stadium. Tarver capped a 14-play, 69-yard drive with a 1-yard scoring toss to Antoine Moore on fourth-and-goal as the Scarlet Knights jumped out to a 7-0 lead with 4:19 left in the first quarter. Michigan State scored on the opening drive of the second half to tie the game at 7 on Jim Miller's 38-yard TD strike to Courtney Hawkins. Rutgers put together a five-play, 54-yard drive late in the fourth quarter and won the game on Tarver's 2-yard TD pass to Moore in the right flat with 46 seconds left. The Scarlet Knight defense recorded five sacks and held Michigan State to 63 yards rushing.

* Michigan State cornerbacks coach Paul Haynes and Rutgers defensive coordinator Paul Ferraro spent the 1994 season together at Bowling Green. Haynes served as a graduate assistant for the Falcons while Ferraro coached the defensive backs.
* Michigan State assistant athletic director/director of football operations Mike Vollmar and Rutgers defensive backs coach Scott Lakatos worked together at Syracuse from 1992-93. Vollmar served as recruiting and personnel coordinator under Paul Pasqualoni while Lakatos spent two years as a graduate assistant.

Michigan State has compiled a 26-13-5 record (.648) against current members of the BIG EAST Conference (1-3-1 vs. Boston College, 0-4 vs. Miami-Fla., 4-0-1 vs. Pittsburgh, 1-2 vs. Rutgers, 9-3-1 vs. Syracuse, 7-1-2 vs. Temple and 4-0 vs. West Virginia). Since 1973, the Spartans are 5-5-1 vs. BIG EAST teams.

Michigan State's 2003 football roster features four players from New Jersey, including safety Anthony Belasco (Cedar Grove), running back Tyrell Dortch (Hoboken), defensive end Daryl Melvin (Jersey City) and offensive tackle Stefon Wheeler (Passaic).

Since 1999, Michigan State has compiled a 14-2 record (.875) in games played against non-conference opponents. In 2002, the Spartans had a 15-game winning streak against non-conference foes snapped by California, 46-22.

The Michigan State coaching staff selected the following Scout Team Players of the Week for their contributions in practice prior to the Sept. 6 game vs. Rutgers:

Offense - OT Mike Gyetvai
Defense - DE Daryl Melvin and DT Joe Toth

Gyetvai, Melvin and Toth are listed among the 72 players dressed for today's game vs. Rutgers.

QUOTING John L. Smith -
Western Michigan Recap: "I liked a lot of things the team did in the season opener. I was pleased with the team's effort overall. The team faced some adversity, and I liked the way the players responded and overcame it. There wasn't any finger pointing; instead, the guys locked their jaws and pulled together.

"There's plenty of room for improvement in all three phases of the game. On offense, the receivers dropped too many balls and the running game was too inconsistent. We have to be able to run the football to win. We had an opportunity to take control of the game in the second half, but the running game didn't produce first downs. The players also need to improve their ability to take adjustments from the sideline to the field and from the locker room to the field.

"Defensively, we must improve our open-field tackling. We also can't afford the mental breakdowns, like allowing receivers to run free. We had some mental lapses on special teams and took some bad penalties. We had good effort overall on special teams, but not always at the beginning of plays. We need great effort early in plays as well as when finishing plays.

"Jeff Smoker did some really good things in his return to the lineup, making some good checks and good reads. He did a nice job of spreading the ball around, especially in hitting the running backs coming out of the backfield. I'm sure Jeff would like to get some plays back because the offense missed some opportunities for big plays.

"I was pleased with the way the defense played in the second half. The guys were fired up. I would have been overjoyed if the defense could have come up with a fourth-down stop on Western Michigan's final drive.

"I want to see the team go to the field and show improvement each week. If we continue to improve each week, we could become a pretty good team by the end of the season."

Rutgers Scouting Report: "I don't care about the record (1-11) Rutgers had last year. This Rutgers team has a lot of kids that can run, especially on the defensive side of the ball. This defense isn't afraid to gamble. There's a lot of quickness along the defensive front, and all the linebackers and defensive backs can run.

"(Quarterback) Ryan Hart did a great job in the season opener against Buffalo. He executed the game plan and didn't put the offense in bad situations.

"Rutgers likes to control the ball with its running game. This team has two talented running backs, in Clarence Pittman and Justise Hairston. We must find a way to stop the run and force Rutgers to throw the football.

"Rutgers really utilizes its great speed on special teams, playing a lot of linebackers and defensive backs. The return game features two game-breakers in Nate Jones and Tres Moses."

Playing MSU's 1,000th Football Game: "This Saturday is going to be very special. It's really neat the way things worked out, with Rutgers being our opponent for the 1,000th game in school history. Rutgers played in the first college football game against Princeton in 1869. Our players will remember this game for the rest of their lives. They'll be able to tell their children and grandchildren that they played against Rutgers in the 1,000th football game in Spartan history.

"We've tweaked the uniforms a little bit as a tribute to all the past Michigan State teams. It's exciting to have the 1953 and 1978 Big Ten champions back on campus. And I salute former All-American Lorenzo White for organizing a reunion for former Spartan players and coaches. This weekend, we have an opportunity to celebrate the rich tradition of Michigan State football."

OUT: FS Greg Cooper (knee; DNP vs. Western Michigan); P Jason Daily (ankle in Aug. 19 practice; DNP vs. Western Michigan); BANDIT Robert Flagg (ankle; DNP vs. Western Michigan); TE Eric Knott (sprained knee vs. Western Michigan); DT Brandon McKinney (foot - stress reaction).

MSU 26, Western Michigan 21: Jeff Smoker completed 21-of-34 throws for 324 yards and three scores to lead Michigan State to a 26-21 victory over Western Michigan in the 2003 season opener. It marked Michigan State's 10th-straight win over an opponent from the Mid-American Conference. The Spartans jumped out to a 7-0 lead on Smoker's 50-yard touchdown strike to Agim Shabaj with 10:05 left in the first quarter. Willie Pope's interception set up Western Michigan's game-tying score, a 45-yard TD toss from Chad Munson to Greg Jennings with 2:16 remaining in the first quarter. Michigan State regained the lead at 14-7 on Smoker's 59-yard scoring pass to Kyle Brown with 12:32 left in the second quarter. The Broncos answered on their next series as Munson completed 40-yard passes to Tony Scheffler and Phil Reed on back-to-back plays to set up Reed's 2-yard TD run. The Spartans took the lead for good on their next possession as a six-play, 31-yard drive resulted in Dave Rayner's 49-yard field goal. Western Michigan turned the ball over on its next series as Darren Barnett intercepted Munson's pass attempt and returned it 2 yards to the MSU 44. A 43-yard run by Jaren Hayes led to Smoker's third TD pass, a 21-yarder to Shabaj, as the Spartans built a 23-14 halftime lead. Michigan State put together a seven-play, 49-yard drive midway through the third quarter and extended its lead to 26-14 on Rayner's 31-yard field goal. Western Michigan's offense came to life late in the fourth quarter. Munson finished off a 10-play, 68-yard drive with a 12-yard TD pass to Jennings with :30 on the clock as the Broncos pulled to within 26-21. Western Michigan's rally ended when Ziehl Kavanaght recovered the attempted onside kick. Smoker became MSU's career leader in total offense (5,756 yards) and passing yards (5,861). Shabaj set career highs with six catches for 89 yards. Despite running 10 fewer plays from scrimmage, Michigan State outgained Western Michigan in total yards, 421-339.

NCAA Stat Leaders -
Here's a glance at how Michigan State ranks among the NCAA stat leaders in 2003:

Team Statistics
Rushing Offense: 69th at 97.0 yards per game
Passing Offense: 13th at 324.0 yards per game
Passing Efficiency: 14th at 159.2 rating
Total Offense: 33rd at 421.0 yards per game
Scoring Offense: t-40th at 26.0 points per game
Rushing Defense: 2nd at 6.0 yards per game
Passing Defense: 92nd at 333.0 yards per game
Pass Efficiency Defense: 57th at 121.1 rating
Total Defense: 50th at 339.0 yards per game
Scoring Defense: t-51st at 21.0 points per game
Turnover Margin: t-42nd at 0.0 turnovers per game
Net Punting: 41st at 36.6 yards per punt
Punt Returns: 59th at 7.1 yards per return
Kickoff Returns: 57th at 19.7 yards per return

Individual Statistics (Top 50)
Passing Efficiency: Jeff Smoker (14th at 159.2 rating)
Total Offense: Jeff Smoker (8th at 321.0 yards per game)
Receptions: Agim Shabaj (t-40th at 6.0 catches per game)
Receiving Yards: Agim Shabaj (t-41st at 89.0 yards per game)
Interceptions: Mike Labinjo and Darren Barnett (t-5th at 1.0 interceptions per game)
Punting: Brandon Fields (34th at 41.1 yards per punt)
Kickoff Returns: Kyle Brown (33rd at 22.0 yards per return)
Field Goals: Dave Rayner (t-12th at 2.0 made per game)
Scoring: Agim Shabaj (t-15th at 12.0 points per game)
Points Responsible For: Jeff Smoker (t-10th at 18.0 points per game)

Jeff Smoker completed 21-of-34 throws for 324 yards and three scores to lead Michigan State to a 26-21 victory over Western Michigan in the 2003 season opener. His three touchdown passes matched his career best, throwing scoring tosses of 50 and 21 yards to Agim Shabaj and 59 yards to Kyle Brown in the first half. It marked Smoker's fifth career 300-yard passing game, setting a Spartan all-time record. Bill Burke (1996-99) and Ed Smith (1976-78) previously shared the career standard with four 300-yard passing games. It also marked his first start in a Spartan uniform since being suspended for the final five games of the 2002 season after admitting a substance abuse problem.

In the 2003 season opener, Smoker become MSU's career leader in total offense (5,756 yards) and passing yards (5,861). With his 59-yard TD strike to Brown in the second quarter vs. Western Michigan, he broke the record previously held by Ed Smith, who produced 5,556 total yards from 1976-78. With his 53-yard completion to Aaron Alexander on the first play of the fourth quarter against the Broncos, Smoker shattered the passing mark previously held by Dave Yarema, who threw for 5,809 yards from 1982-86.

The 6-foot-3, 224-pound Smoker also ranks among MSU's all-time leaders in TD passes (tied for second with 43), pass completions (fifth with 404), pass attempts (fifth with 696) and completion percentage (seventh at .580). The Manheim, Pa., native needs only four scoring tosses to overtake Bill Burke (46; 1996-99) and become MSU's career leader in TD passes. Smoker, who has 14 career 200-yard passing games, has compiled a 14-11 record (.560) in 25 career starts.

Junior defensive tackle Matthias Askew recorded four sacks for 28 yards in Michigan State's 26-21 victory over Western Michigan. He equaled the second-best single-game sack total in Spartan history, falling just one short of the record held by Travis Davis (five for 37 yards vs. Ohio State, 1987). In 22 previous games, the 6-foot-6, 294-pound Askew had produced only one sack (4 yards).

Michigan State's defense sacked Western Michigan quarterback Chad Munson six times for 45 yards in the 2003 season opener. By comparison, the Spartans compiled only 19 sacks during the entire 2002 season.

Thanks to six sacks for 45 yards, Michigan State allowed only 6 yards rushing in the 2003 season opener vs. Western Michigan (24 attempts). It marked the Spartans' best defensive effort since holding Ohio State to zero yards rushing on 22 carries on Nov. 6, 1999.

By contrast, Michigan State ranked ninth in the Big Ten and No. 110 nationally (out of 117) in rushing defense in 2002, permitting 213.8 yards per game. Last year, opponents gained 2,566 yards on the ground against the Spartans, the fourth-highest total allowed in school history.

Michigan State has played before a sellout crowd in 35 of its last 40 home games, including the last 27 in a row. The Spartans have ranked among the NCAA's top 20 in attendance each of the last 47 years, including 19th in 2002, averaging 73,942 fans per game.

Spartan Stadium is in its 80th season as home to Michigan State football. Michigan State has compiled a 292-124-13 (.696) since taking up residency in Spartan Stadium in 1923. The Spartans have gone undefeated at home 16 times since the stadium opened, including a perfect 6-0 mark in 1999. It marked Michigan State's first undefeated home record since 1966 (5-0-1) and its first unbeaten and untied home slate since 1965 (5-0-0).

Since 1990, Michigan State is 67-16-1 (.804) when it scores at least 24 points and 11-56-1 (.169) when it scores fewer than 24 points. During that 14-year period, the Spartans have compiled an overall record of 78-72-2 (.520).



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