The game was billed as a battle of 1,000-yard running backs. And it was settled in the trenches, where Colorado State was too much for Michigan State.
Kevin McDougal's 32-yard touchdown run early in the fourth quarter gave the 15th-ranked Rams their first lead and they held on for a 23-16 victory over No. 23 Michigan State in the Black Coaches Association Classic on Saturday.
The Rams, who once trailed 16-0, increased their winning streak to 10 games. Michigan State has lost 10 of its last 12 against ranked opponents and is 7-34 in such games since 1988."
McDougal, one of two 1,000-yard rushers in the Rams' backfield, completed the comeback with a burst off tackle with 11:29 left in the fourth quarter.
"I've got to tell you, our offensive line dominated today," said McDougal, who rushed for 1,111 yards last season. "When they have good games, we have good games."
Ryan Eslinger, making his first start at quarterback, was 3-of-3 for 44 yards in the go-ahead drive. Eslinger, a senior who had attempted just 27 passes before this season, was 13-of-26 for 205 yards and one touchdown with one interception for the game.
"The second half, it was just a matter of making everything go," Eslinger said. "It worked out good. They ran some things (defensively) that we had in our game plan. They didn't throw anything at us that we didn't see on film."
Bill Burke, making his first start at quarterback for Michigan State, was 11-of-21 for 73 yards with one touchdown and one interception. Freshman Ryan Van Dyke was at quarterback for the Spartans' final series.
| Michigan State running back Sedrick Irvin gets away from Colorado State's Nate Kvamme in the first quarter Saturday. (AP) |
"We had only 230 yards of total offense," Michigan State coach Nick Sban said. "Part of that is because we couldn't complete passes when we really needed to do that."
Colorado State, which led the nation in turnover margin last year with a plus-27, forced two Spartans fumbles in the fourth quarter to protect the lead.
"We came out a little sluggish, especially offensively, but we came in at halftime and you could see it in the guys' eyes," said McDougal, who rushed for 82 yards on 12 carries. "A lot of teams would have given up at 16-9. They didn't want to lose. They didn't want to quit."
Inexperience showed on the part of both quarterbacks in the first quarter. Burke, despite converting third downs with passes of 8 and 6 yards to set up Paul Edinger's 23-yard field goal, had a pass intercepted by Colorado State's Erik Olson late in the first quarter.
Eslinger, whose first interception led to Michigan State's second touchdown, overthrew wide-open Derrek Uhl, who got behind Spartans cornerback Renaldo Hill on the last play of the first quarter.
Burke gave Michigan State a 9-0 lead with a 1-yard touchdown flip to Brad Rainko, capping a 55-yard, nine-play drive early in the second quarter.
Five plays later, Eslinger's pass was picked off by Amp Campbell, who returned it 14 yards to the Rams 33. Four plays later, the Spartans had a 16-0 lead.
Burke teamed with Plaxico Burress for 13 yards on third down before Sedrick Irvin, who carried 30 times for 120 yards, broke off left tackle for a 17-yard touchdown run.
At that point, it looked like the rout might be on for the Spartans, who were 7-5 a year ago. But the Rams, who won a school-record 11 games last year, answered by going 75 yards in six plays. Eslinger found Darran Hall behind Hill for a 57-yard scoring play that cut the deficit to 16-6.
On the Rams' next possession, Eslinger had a 16-yard completion to Uhl in a 36-yard, six-play drive that ended with a 44-yard field goal by Derek Franz, making it 16-9 with 1:08 left in the half.
"We were down 16-9 at halftime, but we were still in the ballgame," said Colorado State coach Sonny Lubick, who has won his last five openers. "That is what we had to have. If we don't get it in scoring position right then, I think the hole would have been too big for us to get out of."
Eslinger completed passes of 38 and 11 yards late in the third quarter as the Rams drove 84 yards in eight plays, tying it 16-16 on Damon Washington's 2-yard run. Washington, who can become the first player in Colorado State history to rush for 1,000 yards three consecutive seasons, froze the defense by faking a pass before scampering into the corner of the end zone.
It was only the second time the Rams of the Western Athletic Conference played a Big Ten school. The last time, they were defeated 24-14 by Michigan in the 1994 Holiday Bowl.
© 1998 SportsLine USA, Inc. All rights reserved