EAST LANSING (MI) - Football is a game of momentum shifts and close calls, even when the final score is 42-10. While the Michigan State Spartans left no doubt as to which was the better team after thumping Eastern Michigan Saturday afternoon, one key play early in the second-half stands out.
Michigan State RB Javon Ringer
Trailing 21-7 in the third quarter, Eastern Michigan drove from its own three-yard line down the field in its most sustained drive of the afternoon. After a holding call negated what would have been a 16-yard touchdown run by Eagles' tailback Terrence Blevins, Eastern Michigan's drive stalled at the Spartans' four yard-line and the Eagles lined up for what appeared to be a routine 21-yard field goal but instead of going for three points, EMU head coach Jeff Genyk called for a fake.
Holder Ryan Downard scampered down to the one-yard line on the fake field goal attempt but the Spartans held EMU out of the end-zone and withered a 96 yard 14-play drive that consumed over five minutes. The Spartans promptly answered with a 99-yard, 7-play drive that ended with tailback Javon Ringer rushing for the fourth of his career-best five rushing touchdowns, giving the Spartans a 28-7 lead, essentially putting the game out of reach.
"I really felt that once we had the option play called back (on a holding penalty), we needed to find a way to get seven points," explained Genyk of his decision to go for the fake. "It was an aggressive call, obviously we are coaching to win the football game and so we needed to try for seven points at the time."
Whether a successful conversion on the fake field goal would have affected the eventual outcome though is debatable. What isn't debatable however is the stellar outing turned in by the Spartans' Javon Ringer Saturday afternoon.
Ringer, running behind a dominant Spartans' offensive line, rushed for 105 of his game-high 135 yards in the first half and scored five of Michigan State's six touchdowns as the Spartans won their tenth straight home opener, evening their record at 1-1 after an opening game loss on the road to California.
With five rushing touchdowns, Ringer came within one score of tying the Spartans' all-time record of six rushing touchdowns in one game but Ringer was not interested in setting records, focusing instead on his only miscue of the game, a fumble into the end-zone that was recovered by Eastern Michigan on Michigan State's opening drive.
"They told me on the sidelines sometime in the third quarter (about the record)," said Ringer. "I wasn't really thinking about it. That fumble is still nagging me and the only thing I'm thinking about is that fumble."
The Spartans though will likely forgive Ringer who more than made up for his first-quarter fumble, atoning later in the quarter to put the Spartans up 7-0 on his first touchdown of the day, a four-yard run that capped a seven-play 46-yard drive.
The Eagles responded however early in the second quarter, knotting the game at 7-7 on quarterback Andy Schmitt's three-yard run in what would prove to be the last time the Eagles would threaten the Spartans in the contest as Michigan State outscored the Eagles 35-0 the remainder of the game until a late EMU drive resulted in a 24-yard Joe Carithers field goal to make the final score 42-10.
Eastern Michigan's defense was challenged throughout the game with trying to stop the Spartans on a short field as five of the Spartan' six scoring drives started on the Eagles side of the field thanks in part to some punting adventures.
Eastern Michigan punter Zach Johnson did not play after suffering an injury to his leg late in Eastern Michigan's 52-0 opening night win over Indiana State and then aggravating his injury this past week in practice. With Johnson sidelined, punting duties fell to placekicker Joe Carithers who performed admirably in relief of Johnson but the Eagles clearly missed Johnson's punting with the Spartans setting up shop frequently deep in their territory.
"Joe (Carithers) did a good job, but we really missed Zach (Johnson) and his ability to pinpoint his punts," stated Genyk afterward.
In the end it was a far different outcome from the previous week when the Eagles dominated Football Championship Subdivision member Indiana State with linebacker Daniel Holtzclaw acknowledging the difference in talent levels between the Sycamores and Saturday's opponent.
"Obviously going from a 1AA team to a powerhouse Big Ten team, there's a lot of difference there," said Holtzclaw who had twelve tackles against Michigan State. "From a personnel perspective they are a lot bigger, faster and stronger. This game is over right now. We're focused on Toledo (EMU's next opponent) and I'm not focused on Michigan State anymore."
Michigan State outgained Eastern Michigan 418-342 yards on the day and recorded 21 first downs to only 11 for the Eagles, but like his teammate, EMU quarterback Andy Schmitt is ready to put the loss behind him and focus on the conference opener next week
"I just think we have to go out there and play a little better and make some plays," said Schmitt who passed for 111 yards. "We have to execute better and just go out there and keep doing what we do and get ready for Toledo."
When Genyk was asked about whether his team is prepared for the conference opener against Toledo, he was succinct in his response: "We will be in six days."