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Spartans, Smith need better play



Published: Tue, October 24, 2006 @ 12:00 a.m.



Michigan State's remaining opponents include Minnesota and Penn St.

EAST LANSING, Mich. (AP) -- John L. Smith and his Michigan State Spartans have been responsible for comebacks and collapses for the ages.

The idea now is to soar as high from a record rally against Northwestern as they sank after a giveaway to Notre Dame.

"It happened, but what are we going to do with it from here on out?" Smith said Monday, two days after Michigan State overcame a 35-point deficit in a 41-38 win over the Wildcats.

"If we take it and build on it and grow from it and execute like that, then, yes, it can be special."

Which direction?

The Spartans (4-4, 1-3 Big Ten) can play in a New Year's Day bowl game or finish last in a top-heavy league with the nation's top two teams. But if they plan to save their season and their coaches' jobs, they need to build on 25 minutes of near-perfect football when they visit Indiana (4-4, 2-2) next weekend.

"I think it's everybody's responsibility to have it carry over," said quarterback Drew Stanton, who was named the Big Ten's co-offensive player of the week.

Michigan State had everything going its way for the season's first 15-plus quarters, outscoring opponents 154-81 and leading Notre Dame by 16 points with less than 10 minutes left in a bid to be 4-0.

Suddenly, the Spartans got sloppy, the Fighting Irish caught fire, and the next 15 quarters saw Michigan State lose four games and get outscored 149-43.

It took the greatest comeback in NCAA Division I-A history and a win that brought national team-of-the-week honors to give Michigan State five more points than it has allowed, 235-230.

The question is whether that turnaround can light the Spartans' fire for four more games against the Hoosiers, Purdue, Minnesota and Penn State.

"That's exactly what we're hoping," Smith said.

Michigan State built its early-season success, including a 38-23 win at Pitt, on offensive firepower. The defense and special teams were erratic at best.

But Saturday's win in Evanston, Ill., required key contributions from the defense and special teams.

Without interceptions from Kaleb Thornhill and walk-on Travis Key, a blocked punt by Devin Thomas that was returned for a touchdown by Ashton Henderson and a game-winning field goal by freshman Brett Swenson, the Spartans would be all alone in 11th place.

"Defensively, we're just trying to put Drew Stanton on the field as much as possible," Key said after filling in for injured safety Nehemiah Warrick. "If we keep doing that, we're going to win ballgames. And in the second half, we just wanted to kill. I got tired of people blaming everything on John L. Smith. You can't blame everything on him. It's on us. We're a team."

That's what Smith hopes he has in Bloomington this weekend. He declined to say much after the Northwestern game and referred all questions to his players, who had just dug deep and answered one of the toughest questions of their careers.

Copyright 2006 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.




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