Nov. 7, 1997

Michigan State Looks to Snap Losing Streak at Purdue

Sedrick Irvin
Sedrick Irvin leads the Spartans in rushing and receiving. (File Photo)

DATE: Nov. 8, 1997
SITE: Ross-Ade Stadium (67,861), West Lafayette, Ind.
KICKOFF: 12:35 p.m. (EST)
SERIES RECORD: Michigan State leads 27-21-3
FIRST MEETING: Purdue 14, Michigan State 6 (Nov. 9, 1918)
LAST MEETING: Michigan State 52, Purdue 14 (Aug. 31, 1996)
BROADCAST COVERAGE: Radio - The Spartan Radio Network, featuring veteran play-by-play announcer George Blaha, color analyst Larry Bielat and sideline reporter Ike Griffin, will broadcast the game to 28 affiliates throughout the state. Michigan State football broadcasts can be heard locally on flagship station WJIM (AM 1240, FM 97.5). Television - ESPN2 will televise the Michigan State-Purdue game live with Rod Gilmore and Rich Waltz calling the action and Sean Salisbury reporting from the sidelines.
OFFICIALS: Referee Dick Honig, Umpire Percy Mun, Linesman Mike Spanier, Line Judge John Kouris, Field Judge Mike Sheahan, Side Judge Jim Filson and Back Judge Doug Rosenbaum.

Michigan State's Nick Saban (Kent State '73) is 17-14-1 (.547) in his third year with the Spartans and 26-16-1 (.616) in four seasons as a college head coach. Saban came to Michigan State following four seasons as the Cleveland Browns' defensive coordinator from 1991-94. He previously served as head coach at the University of Toledo where he guided the Rockets to a 9-2 record overall in 1990, including a share of the Mid-American Conference title at 7-1.

Purdue's Joe Tiller (Montana State '65) is 6-2 (.750) in his first year with the Boilermakers and 45-32-1 (.583) in seven seasons as a college head coach. Tiller compiled a 39-30-1 record (.564) in six seasons at Wyoming (1991-96), including a 10-2 worksheet in 1996. His college coaching credits also include stops as an assistant at Washington State (1989-90 and 1971-73), Wyoming (1987-88), Purdue (1983-86) and Montana State (1964-70).

                            Michigan State     Purdue
Basic Offense                   Pro Set       One Back  
Basic Defense                      4-3          4-3
Offensive Starters Returning        6            8
Defensive Starters Returning        9            5
Specialists Returning               2            2
                                Michigan State        Purdue
Offensive Line & Tight End          6-5, 294        6-5,  286
Offensive Backs & Wide Receivers    6-1, 206        5-11, 192
Defensive Line                      6-4, 268        6-3,  266
Linebackers                         6-3, 234        6-0,  212
Defensive Backs                     6-0, 193        6-0,  196

Michigan State Offense: 6 seniors, 2 juniors, 2 sophomores, 1 freshman
Michigan State Defense: 2 seniors, 5 juniors, 4 sophomores
Purdue Offense: 7 seniors, 1 junior, 2 sophomores, 1 freshman
Purdue Defense: 3 seniors, 3 juniors, 5 sophomores

Michigan State (After 8 Games):
Rushing - Sedrick Irvin (153 carries for 733 yards, 4.8 avg., 5 TDs)
Passing - Todd Schultz (112 of 195 for 1235 yards, 11 TDs, 11 INTs)
Receiving - Sedrick Irvin (31 catches for 267 yards, 8.6 avg., 2 TDs)
Tackles - Ike Reese (90 tackles, 64 solos, 26 assists, 7 for losses)

Purdue (After 8 Games):
Rushing - Kendall Matthews (79 carries for 560 yards, 7.1 avg., 2 TDs)
Passing - Billy Dicken (140 of 251 for 2110 yards, 16 TDs, 9 INTs)
Receiving - Brian Alford (45 catches for 917 yards, 20.4 avg., 8 TDs)
Tackles - Willie Fells (87 tackles, 43 solos, 44 assists)

                    Michigan State     Purdue 
Scoring                  27.8            33.5
First Downs              19.0            20.5
Total Offense           349.9           460.1
Rushing Yards           167.5           175.3   
Passing Yards           182.4           284.9
Time of Possession      29:58           27:04
Third Down Conversions   .390            .457
Points Allowed           16.6            22.1
Total Yards Allowed     294.2           388.9
Rushing Yards Allowed   112.9           181.5
Passing Yards Allowed   181.4           207.4

Ohio State Recap: "The most disappointing thing about this loss is the fact that we gave Ohio State two touchdowns in the first quarter, with the interception return and blocked punt both going for scores. We simply failed to execute on those two plays and that's discouraging, especially when the team's playing hard. We put ourselves behind the eight ball early and we couldn't afford to give Ohio State 14 points.

Nick Saban
Michigan State head coach Nick Saban. (File Photo)

"Offensively, our execution hasn't been very good. We haven't been able to sustain any drives. We're going to keep a positive attitude and continue to work to improve the execution so we give ourselves a chance to be successful.

"We're 5-3 and have three games left, so we still have a chance to win eight games during the regular season. It's time for our players to determine how important this season is to them. I'm going to keep competing and help this team try to play its best football down the stretch."

Purdue Scouting Report: "Joe Tiller has done an outstanding job in his first season at Purdue. With six wins, Purdue has already assured itself of its first winning season since 1984. Purdue had its six-game winning streak snapped at Iowa last week so it's faced with a must-win game in order to stay in the Big Ten title race.

"Purdue's one-back offense has produced some impressive numbers, averaging 34 points and 460 yards per game. Billy Dicken has quickly mastered the new offense. He has passed for over 2,000 yards already this season, including a career-high 352 yards against Notre Dame. Dicken also has an impressive touchdown-to-interception ratio of nearly 2-to-1.

"The big-play receiver is Brian Alford, who is averaging better than 20 yards per catch. Dicken does a nice job of involving a lot of players in the passing game, with five guys having 18 or more catches this season.

"Purdue also has two solid running backs in Edwin Watson and Kendall Matthews.

"This is a difficult offense to prepare for since nobody on our schedule or in our league runs this one-back set. We did some advance scouting by watching some Wyoming films over the summer but I'm not sure how much that helps. This is also a difficult offense for a scout team to simulate.

"Purdue's offense has grabbed most of the headlines this season but its improvement on the defensive side of the football has been equally impressive. Purdue has forced 23 turnovers this season and ranks fifth nationally in turnover margin.

"Middle linebacker Willie Fells leads in the team in tackles, including a career-high 20 tackles against Iowa. Right end Rosevelt Colvin leads Purdue in both tackles for losses and sacks. The secondary has played well as a unit.

"Purdue is solid in the kicking game with punter Brandon Kaser, averaging 45 yards per kick."

Spartan Update: "I anticipate a hard-fought football game. These are two hungry football teams. We've lost three in a row but still have a chance for an eight-win season and Purdue's backed against a wall trying to stay in the Big Ten race.

"We'll be facing a ranked opponent for the third-straight week. We have little margin for error, especially playing on the road. We simply haven't given ourselves a chance to be successful the last two weeks with turnovers and mental mistakes."

Michigan State leads it 27-21-3, including a 52-14 victory in Spartan Stadium in the 1996 season opener. The Spartans have won nine out of the last 12 meetings, including a 35-35 tie in West Lafayette, Ind., on Sept. 23, 1995. Michigan State's last victory in Ross-Ade Stadium came on Nov. 13, 1993, 27-24. Purdue's last on the field win in the series came on Nov. 16, 1991, 27-17, in West Lafayette. (Note: For a complete list of all-time series results please refer to page 157 in the 1997 MSU Football Media Guide.)

Sedrick Irvin accounted for 162 all-purpose yards and scored four touchdowns in his collegiate debut to lead Michigan State to a 52-14 victory over Purdue in East Lansing in the 1996 season opener. The Spartans scored on five-straight possessions in the first half en route to a 28-0 halftime lead. Irvin scored on a 12-yard pass from Todd Schultz and on runs of 17 and 5 yards in the first half, and set a Spartan freshman single-game record for touchdowns with another 5-yard run in the third quarter. Irvin picked up 73 yards rushing on 13 carries, caught seven passes for 59 yards and returned a kickoff for 30 yards. Schultz completed 19-of-27 passes for 174 yards. Chris Gardner provided three field goals, including a 49-yarder. Michigan State outgained the Boilermakers, 472-397, total yards.

Michigan State running backs coach Bobby Williams was a four-year letterman for Coach Jim Young at Purdue from 1977-81. Williams, who served as a tri-captain as a senior in 1981, helped the Boilermakers to a combined record of 31-17 (.646) during his five-year career. He began his college career as a running back and ranked as the team's second-leading rusher with 362 yards (99 attempts) as a freshman in '77 before moving to the defensive secondary in '79. Williams had eight career interceptions and 172 tackles.

Michigan State's 64-man travel roster features two players from Indiana, including starting center Jason Strayhorn (Indianapolis/North Central High School) and walk-on defensive back John Marynowski (Fort Wayne/Homestead).

Michigan State opened the 1997 season with five-straight wins - its best start since the 1966. The Spartans began the '66 campaign with nine-straight victories before the historic 10-10 tie against Notre Dame in the season finale.

Michigan State has outscored its opponents, 159-63, in the first half this season. The Spartan defense has not allowed a touchdown in the first quarter this season. Ohio State's Gary Berry scored twice in the first quarter during a 2:07 span on an interception return and a blocked punt. Overall, Michigan State has outscored opponents, 90-26, in the first quarter this season. The Spartans scored touchdowns on its first two possessions in each of its first four games.

OUT: DT Pete Govens (ACL right knee vs. Notre Dame; out for the season after undergoing surgery on Oct. 9); LB Dwayne Hawkins (left knee patella femeral dysfunction; out for the season after undergoing surgery Sept. 26); DE Nick Meyers (MCL right knee sprain in practice Sept. 29; out three-to-four weeks); QB Gus Ornstein (chip fracture left humerus vs. Michigan; out for four weeks); CB Ron Weston (ACL right knee; out for the season). DOUBTFUL: TE Chris Baker (cartilage left knee in practice Aug. 14; DNP vs. Western Michigan, Memphis, Notre Dame, Minnesota, Indiana, Northwestern, Michigan and Ohio State). QUESTIONABLE: SS Aric Morris (hyperextended right knee vs. Ohio State); TE Kyle Rance (sprained left ankle vs. Ohio State); DT Desmond Thomas (sprained right knee vs. Michigan; DNP vs. Ohio State).

Gary Berry returned an interception and a blocked punt for touchdowns to lead ninth-ranked Ohio State to a 37-13 victory over Michigan State in Spartan Stadium. Michigan State scored on its first possession as a nine-play, 42-yard drive produced a 49-yard field goal from Chris Gardner. The Buckeyes scored 17 points in two-and-a-half minutes to take control late in the first quarter. Ohio State pulled even at 3-3 on a 25-yard field goal by Dan Stultz with 3:17 left in the first quarter. On Michigan State's next series, Berry intercepted a Todd Schultz pass intended for Gari Scott and returned it 45 yards for a touchdown. The Spartans went three and out on their next possession and Marcel Willis blocked Paul Edinger's punt, which Berry returned 1 yard for another TD. The Spartans put together an eight-play, 55-yard drive with Gardner providing a 30-yard field goal with 12:35 remaining in the second quarter. Ohio State extended its lead to 24-6 on Joe Germaine's 11-yard TD strike to David Boston with :32 left in the first half. The Buckeyes held Michigan State without a first down and to only four total yards in the third quarter. Stultz added a 43-yard field goal with 1:06 remaining in the third quarter as Ohio State moved out to a 27-6 lead. Damon Moore's interception late in the third quarter set up another Buckeye touchdown as Pepe Pearson scored on a 3-yard run with 14:25 left in the game. Ohio State displayed perfect balance on offense, picking up 202 yards on the ground and 203 yards passing. Germaine came off the bench to complete 13-of-18 passes for 134 yards while Boston had eight receptions for 119 yards. Michigan State managed a season-low 11 first downs and 263 total yards.

The Michigan State coaching staff selected the following players as Spartans of the Week for their performances Nov. 1 vs. Ohio State:

  • Offense: FB Travis Reece (graded 90 percent in his run-blocking assignments)
  • Defense: OLB Ike Reese (13 total tackles including 11 solos; 20 production points)
  • Special Teams: P Paul Edinger (averaged 46.7 yards on seven punts, including a career-long 62-yarder)

Michigan State's 23-7 victory at Notre Dame Sept. 20 marked the Spartans first win on natural grass since 1993. The Spartans are just 1-9-1 in their last 11 games played on natural grass. By contrast, Michigan State is 20-14 (.588) in its last 34 games on artificial turf.

Michigan State has held 10 out of its last 19 regular-season opponents under 100 yards rushing. In the 1997 season opener vs. Western Michigan, the Spartans allowed 29 yards rushing on 21 attempts. It marked the fourth time during Nick Saban's tenure that Michigan State surrendered fewer than 50 yards on the ground. Here's a look at MSU's top efforts against the run since 1995:

Date             Opponent         Att.-Yds.  Result
Sept. 16, 1995   @Louisville        37-50    W 30-7
Sept. 28, 1996   Eastern Michigan   39-25    W 47-0
Oct. 12, 1996    Illinois           32-49    W 42-14
Sept. 6, 1997    Western Michigan   21-29    W 42-10
Dimitrius Underwood
Defensive end Dimitrius Underwood has been a key factor in MSU's defensive success in 1997. (File Photo)

STINGY DEFENSE PART II - A key to Michigan State's success on defense in 1997 has been its ability to prevent big plays. Spartan opponents have produced only 23 plays from scrimmage (528 snaps) which have totaled more than 20 yards. That means the Spartans surrender a big play (+20 yards) once every 23 snaps.

Michigan State has allowed only three runs of 20 or more yards, including a long gain of 51. The Spartans have held their opponents to three plays and a punt 27 times over the first seven games.

The Spartans rank No. 27 nationally in rushing defense, yielding 112.9 yards per game. Michigan State has already recorded 75 tackles behind the line of scrimmage with losses totaling 278 yards, including 28 sacks for 164 yards. That's an average of 9.4 tackles behind the line (34.8 yards) and 3.5 sacks per game (20.5). Starting defensive ends Robaire Smith and Dimitrius Underwood have combined for 21 tackles for losses (109 yards), including 16 sacks (97).

During Nick Saban's tenure, Michigan State has rushed the ball 50 times or more on nine occasions with the Spartans sporting a 8-1 record in those games. The Spartans produced 222 yards rushing on 53 attempts in a 23-7 victory at Notre Dame Sept. 20, with both Marc Renaud (112) and Sedrick Irvin (106) going over the 100-yard mark. Here's a look at Michigan State's nine games with 50-plus rushes since 1995:

Date             Opponent           Att.-Yds.   Result
Sept. 16, 1995   @Louisville        56-216      W 30-7
Oct. 14, 1995    @Illinois          55-239      W 27-21
Sept. 28, 1996   Eastern Michigan   57-249      W 47-0
Oct. 5, 1996     @Iowa              52-236      L 30-37
Oct. 12, 1996    Illinois           52-205      W 42-14
Oct. 19, 1996    @Minnesota         56-243      W 27-9
Nov. 9, 1996     Indiana            64-257      W 38-15
Sept. 6, 1997    Western Michigan   52-150      W 42-10
Sept. 20, 1997   @Notre Dame        53-222      W 23-7

Michigan State's offense generated four plays from scrimmage which gained 20 or more yards against ninth-ranked Ohio State, but the Spartans put only 13 points on the scoreboard in a 24-point loss (13-37). The Spartans delivered four big plays (+20 yards) in its 23-7 loss to fifth-ranked Michigan, but six interceptions and five penalties thwarted potential scoring drives. In its 19-17 setback at Northwestern, the Spartans had only one big play from scrimmage.

By contrast in back-to-back wins over Minnesota and Indiana, the Spartans produced 11 plays from scrimmage (140 snaps) which gained 20 or more yards, with three going for touchdowns. That translated into a big play (+20 yards) once every 12.7 snaps.

Michigan State had five big plays against Minnesota, with Sedrick Irvin turning a screen pass from Todd Schultz into a 34-yard score. Against Indiana, the Spartans provided six plays of 20 or more yards , with Irvin scoring on a 56-yard run and Gari Scott catching a 27-yard TD pass from Schultz.

This season, the Spartans have managed only 25 plays from scrimmage (570 snaps) which have totaled more than 20 yards, including eight running plays and 17 pass completions. That means Michigan State's offense breaks a long gain (+20 yards) only once every 23 snaps.

Michigan State has scored on 26 of its 28 possessions (.929) that have penetrated the opponent's 20-yard line in 1997. The Spartans' scoring drives have produced 19 touchdowns and seven field goals. Here's a look at MSU's and its opponent's trips inside the "Red Zone" in '97:

Michigan State      "Red Zone" Results
Western Michigan    3-3 (3 TDs)
Memphis             7-7 (6 TDs, FG)
Notre Dame          5-6 (2 TDs, 3 FGs, lost on downs)
Minnesota           4-4 (3 TDs, FG)
Indiana             2-2 (2 TDs)
Northwestern        3-4 (2 TDs, FG, missed FG)
Michigan            1-1 (TD)
Ohio State          1-1 (FG)
Totals              26-28 (.929)
Opponent            "Red Zone" Results
Western Michigan    2-3 (TD, interception, FG)
Memphis             1-3 (lost on downs, TD, interception)
Notre Dame          1-1 (TD)
Minnesota           1-1 (FG)
Indiana             2-2 (2 FGs)
Northwestern        3-3 (FG, 2 TDs)
Michigan            5-6 (3 FGs, 2 TDs, missed FG)
Ohio State          4-4 (2 FGs, 2 TDs)
Totals              19-23 (.826)

In successive losses to Northwestern, Michigan and Ohio State, Michigan State has a turnover margin of -2.3. The Spartans opened the 1997 season with five-straight wins and a +1.6 turnover margin. Michigan State has parlayed 17 takeaways into 56 points in 1997. Last year, the Spartans finished last in the Big Ten in turnover margin at -0.83 per game (18 takeaways, 28 giveaways).

Michigan State      Takeaways                        Points
Western Michigan     7 (4 interceptions, 3 fumbles)   21 (3 TDs)
Memphis              3 (1 interception, 2 fumbles)    14 (2 TDs)
Notre Dame           1 (1 interception)                0
Minnesota            2 (2 interceptions)               7 (TD)
Indiana              0                                 0
Northwestern         2 (2 fumbles)                     7 (TD)
Michigan             0                                 0
Ohio State           2 (2 interceptions)               7 (TD)
Totals              17 (10 interceptions, 7 fumbles)  56
Opponent            Takeaways                        Points
Western Michigan     1 (1 interception)                0
Memphis              1 (1 fumble)                      7 (TD)
Notre Dame           1 (1 interception)                7 (TD)
Minnesota            2 (1 interception, 1 fumble)      7 (TD)
Indiana              0                                 0
Northwestern         3 (1 interception, 2 fumbles)     7
Michigan             6 (6 interceptions)              10 (FG, TD)
Ohio State           2 (2 interceptions)              14 (2 TDs)
Totals              16 (12 interceptions, 4 fumbles)  52

YOUTH IS SERVED - With a 42-0 halftime lead, Michigan State head coach Nick Saban substituted freely in the second half of the 1997 season opener vs. Western Michigan. Nineteen first-year players saw action against the Broncos, including 10 true freshmen, six red-shirt freshman, two sophomores and a junior. Here's a complete breakdown of players who made their collegiate debuts Sept. 6 vs. Western Michigan:

True Freshmen (10): CB Richard Brown, DT Willie Comerford, DB John Marynowski, DE Nick Meyers, CB Richard Newsome, DE Jace Sayler, WR Demont Smith, DE Artie Steinmetz, WR DeMario Suggs, LB T.J. Turner.
Red-Shirt Freshmen (6): OT Matt Bonito, C Brian Grant, OG Shaun Mason, WR Lavaile Richardson, OG Mike Schutz, OT Dave Sucura.
Sophomores (2): TB Leroy McFadden, DE Robaire Smith.
Junior (1): QB Ralph Truitt.

Here's a glance at how Michigan State ranks among the Big Ten and NCAA stat leaders in 1997:

Category             Stat Avg.  Big Ten   NCAA  
Rushing Offense         167.5    7th      39th
Passing Offense         182.4    8th      75th
Total Offense           349.9    7th      65th
Scoring Offense          27.8    5th      43rd
Rushing Defense         112.9    3rd      27th
Pass Efficiency Defense 106.0    4th      24th
Total Defense           294.2    4th      16th
Scoring Defense          16.6    4th      18th
Turnover Margin          +0.1    8th      55th
Net Punting              32.2   11th     105th
Punt Returns             12.2    2nd    t-14th
Kickoff Returns          22.2    3rd      29th

Here's a brief look at how Michigan State's players rank among the NCAA stat leaders in 1997:

Individual Category
Rushing: Sedrick Irvin (34th at 91.6 yards per game)
Punt Returns: Sedrick Irvin (14th at 13.4 avg.)
Kickoff Returns: Marc Renaud (t-43rd at 23.0 avg.)
Interceptions: Amp Campbell and Ray Hill (t-34th at 0.38 per game)
Field Goals: Chris Gardner (t-32nd at 1.13 made per game)
All-Purpose Yards: Sedrick Irvin (16th at 156.8 yards per game)

Senior offensive guard Scott Shaw and senior outside linebacker Ike Reese were elected team captains by their peers Aug. 29. Reese becomes only the fourth two-time captain in Michigan State football history and the first since 1982-83. Other two-time captains include linebacker Carl Banks (1982-83), quarterback John Leister (1981-82) and linebacker George Cooper (1980-81). The only three-time captain in Spartan history is center Robert McCurry (1946-48).

Senior placekicker Chris Gardner and senior wide receiver Damien Hiram have been appointed game captains for Purdue by head coach Nick Saban.

Since 1990, Michigan State is 37-8-1 (.815) when it scores at least 24 points and 7-35-1 (.174) when it scores fewer than 24 points. During that eight-year period, the Spartans have compiled an overall record of only 44-43-2 (.506).

Here's a glance at how Michigan State has fared in the weekly Associated Press and USA Today/ESPN Coaches Polls in 1997:

                  USA Today/
Date        AP      ESPN
Preseason   25       NR
Aug. 31     25       NR
Sept. 7     21       23
Sept. 14    17       18
Sept. 21    12       13
Sept. 28    12       13
Oct. 5      11       11
Oct. 12     12       11
Oct. 19     15       14
Oct. 26     21       20
Nov. 2      NR       NR

For the first time this season, Michigan State does not appear in either the USA Today/ESPN Coaches or Associated Press Polls. The Spartans were picked No. 25 in the AP Preseason Poll and held a spot in its rankings for nine-straight weeks. Michigan State was not listed in the USA Today/ESPN Coaches Preseason Poll but joined its rankings Sept. 27 and remained there for eight-consecutive weeks. The Spartans reached No. 11 in both polls Oct. 5, which marked MSU's highest national rating since finishing eight in the polls after the 1987 season.

Flozell Adams
Flozell Adams graded out at a season-best 86 percent against Ohio State. (File Photo)

Outland Trophy candidate Flozell Adams is in his third season as a starter on Michigan State's offensive line. Nicknamed "The Hotel," the 6-foot-7, 330-pound Adams has been named first-team preseason All-American by nearly every magazine, including The Sporting News, Football News, Lindy's College Football Annual, Bob Griese's College Football Preview and Playboy. He has been ranked as the nation's No. 1 offensive tackle by The Sporting News, Lindy's and Bob Griese's.

Adams got off to a slow start after suffering a high ankle sprain on the second snap in the 1997 season opener vs. Western Michigan, and he was limited to only 29 snaps vs. Memphis. His top all-around performance came vs. Ohio State when he produced an overall grade of 86 percent. Adams also had an overall mark of 85 percent vs. Minnesota, including 86 percent in his run-blocking assignments. He graded out 85 percent vs. Notre Dame, including 93 percent in his pass-blocking assignments. Despite the reduced playing time, Adams has recorded 21 pancake blocks, including a season-high four pancakes each vs. Ohio State and Northwestern. He has allowed only one sack this season.

Adams has been described as a "road-grader" by MSU head coach Nick Saban. Spartan running backs have reached the 100-yard mark 17 times in his 31 career starts. Last year, Adams anchored an offensive line which helped produce a 1,000-yard rusher in freshman Sedrick Irvin (1,067).

Senior offensive tackle Flozell Adams is one of 12 semifinalists for the Lombardi Award, presented annually since 1970 by the Rotary Club of Houston to the nation's lineman of the year. Adams is one of four offensive linemen under consideration, and he joins Iowa defensive tackle Jared DeVries and Ohio State linebacker Andy Katzenmoyer on the ballot.

Four finalists for the Lombardi Award will be selected Nov. 8 and the winner announced Dec. 10.

Sedrick Irvin, who rushed for a Michigan State freshman-record 1,067 yards in 1996, is one of 52 candidates nominated for the Doak Walker Award, presented annually since 1990 by the GTE-SMU Athletic Forum to the nation's top running back. Irvin is one of only six sophomores featured on the preseason list of candidates, including Wisconsin's Ron Dayne, Minnesota's Thomas Hamner, Houston's Ketric Sanford, Georgia Tech's Charles Wiley and West Virginia's Amos Zereoue.

Eight semifinalists for the Doak Walker Award will be announced Nov. 26 and three finalists Dec. 3. The winner will be named Dec. 11.

Irvin (153 carries for 733 yards and 5 TDs in 1997) ranks among the Big Ten leaders in rushing (fifth at 91.6 yards per game), receiving (seventh at 3.88 catches per game), all-purpose yards (fourth at 156.8), punt returns (third at 13.4 avg.) and scoring (14th at 6.0 points per game). He has seven career 100-yard games, including a career-high 178 yards (16 attempts) vs. Indiana Oct. 11.

Four-year starter Ike Reese leads the 1997 Spartans in tackles with 90 (64 solos, 26 assists), including seven for losses (22 yards). He has reached double figures in tackles six times this season, including a career-high 17 stops (15-2) vs. Michigan. He recorded 13 tackles each vs. Ohio State (11-2), Northwestern (9-3) and Notre Dame (6-7). Reese anchors a Michigan State defensive unit which currently ranks among the NCAA leaders in rushing defense (No. 27 at 112.9 yards per game), passing defense (No. 24 with 106.0 rating), total defense (No. 16 at 294.2) and scoring defense (No. 18 at 16.6 points). Reese has 18 career double-figure tackle games and already ranks among MSU's all-time leaders with 373 career tackles (No. 4).

Michigan State ranked No. 25 in the Associated Press preseason poll, released Aug. 9. The Spartans were one of six Big Ten teams featured in the AP ratings, including preseason No. 1 Penn State, No. 9 Ohio State, No. 14. Michigan, No. 21 Iowa and No. 24 Wisconsin. It marked Michigan State's first appearance in the AP preseason poll since 1991.

Editors of at least three magazines also elected to include Michigan State in their preseason polls, including Sports Illustrated (No. 16), The Sporting News (No. 18) and Bob Griese's College Football Preview (No. 20).

"It's flattering to our program to be considered a preseason Top 25 team," Saban said. "People who cover our team on a regular basis know how far we have come in the last three years.

"Preseason polls create a great deal of interest for football programs and a remarkable number of tickets can be sold based upon a preseason ranking. Preseason polls deal with potential while post-season finishes deal with reality. As a coach, I'd much rather deal in reality than with potential."

Michigan State head football coach Nick Saban's motto for the 1997 season is "Reach Higher" and thanks to 17 returning starters, Spartan fans shared the same enthusiasm as reflected by the record number of season tickets sold. For the first time in school history, Michigan State sold more than 60,000 season tickets. The first five games have already attracted sellout crowds. In addition, the home finale Nov. 29 vs Penn State is already complete sellout.

Season-ticket sales increased by more than 11,000 from 48,968 in 1996 to 60,244. Sales were up in three different season-ticket categories, including public, student and family. The previous record for season tickets sold was 57,019 in 1988 following Michigan State's '87 Big Ten championship and Rose Bowl victory over Southern Cal, 20-17.

Date vs.
  MSU       Opponent                Last Game Result                Next Game
Sept. 6     Western Michigan (6-3)  @Eastern Michigan (W 41-38)     vs. Central Michigan
Sept. 13    Memphis (3-5)           vs. Houston (W 24-3)            @Tulane
Sept. 20    @Notre Dame (4-5)       vs. Navy (W 21-17)              @Louisiana State (11/15)    
Oct. 4      Minnesota (2-7)         @Michigan (L 3-24)              vs. Ohio State
Oct. 11     @Indiana (2-7)          vs. Illinois (W 23-6)           @Minnesota (11/15)
Oct. 18     @Northwestern (3-7)     vs. Penn State (L 27-30)        @Illinois
Oct. 25     Michigan (8-0)          vs. Minnesota (W 24-3)          @Penn State
Nov. 1      Ohio State (8-1)        @Michigan State (W 37-13)       @Minnesota
Nov. 8      @Purdue (6-2)           @Iowa (L 17-35)                 vs. Michigan State  
Nov. 22     @Illinois (0-8)         @Indiana (L 6-23)               vs. Northwestern
Nov. 29     Penn State (7-0)        @Northwestern (W 30-27)         vs. Michigan

Michigan State's 1997 opponents have a combined record of 46-40 (.535). Note: Record doesn't include games played against MSU.

Over the past 74 seasons, Michigan State has compiled a 268-113-13 mark (.697) in Spartan Stadium. The Spartans have gone undefeated at home 15 times since the stadium opened in 1923. In addition, Michigan State has suffered only one home loss in 26 seasons, including last year's 5-1 record. Only six times in the 73-year history of the stadium has Michigan State experienced a losing record at home.

Here's how Michigan State has fared during Nick Saban's tenure (1995-97):
Games played in Spartan Stadium: 11-6
Games played on the road/neutral site: 6-8-1
When leading at halftime: 16-5
When trailing at halftime: 1-8-1
When scoring first: 14-5-1
When opponent scores first: 3-9
When leading after first quarter: 13-3-1
When trailing after first quarter: 2-6
When tied after first quarter: 2-5
When leading after three quarters: 16-0-1
When trailing after three quarters: 1-12
When tied after three quarters: 0-2
When gaining more first downs than opponent: 14-3
When gaining fewer first downs than opponent: 3-8-1
When gaining same number of first downs as opponent: 0-3
When gaining 200+ yards rushing: 12-2-1
When opponent gains 200+ yards rushing: 2-7-1
When outrushing opponent: 15-4-1
When being outrushed by opponent: 2-10
When gaining 200+ yards passing: 9-8-1
When opponent gains 200+ yards passing: 5-8-1
When gaining more total yards than opponent: 16-4
When gaining fewer total yards than opponent: 1-10-1
When leading in time of possession: 13-7-1
When trailing in time of possession: 4-7