Michigan State (3-3 Big Ten, 5-3 overall) is notorious for following up big wins with poor performances, so it came as no surprise that following its win over No. 12 Michigan, the Spartans lost at home to Indiana (3-3, 3-5), 37-28.
But what compounded the damage for Michigan State was the injury to starting quarterback Jeff Smoker. Earlier in the season, Smoker was splitting time with senior Ryan Van Dyke, but when he went down, Smoker received all the playing time and the Spartans were left without a safety net at the quarterback position.
Late in the fourth quarter, with the Spartans trying to mount a comeback, Smoker injured his throwing shoulder, leaving two freshmen as Michigan State”s options at quarterback this week at Purdue (3-3, 5-3).
“We”re down to Damon Dowdell who”s a redshirt freshman, and Aaron Alexander, who”s a true freshman,” Michigan State coach Bobby Williams said.
While Van Dyke is practicing again, he has not been cleared to play by the Michigan State medical staff, and is not participating in contact drills.
“We”ve changed our practices over the last three weeks since we”ve lost so many players,” Williams said. “We don”t have many sessions where we go good against good. Most we do is walk through sessions where its not fast-paced drills. We”ve scaled back overall time that we spend on the field.”
The Spartans need to win one of their last three games to become bowl eligible. They close with Penn State (2-4, 3-5) and Missouri (3-4, 4-5), which are both trying to become bowl eligible themselves.
Moving up?: There are two ways to look at Ohio State”s end to its season Purdue, No. 12 Illinois and at Michigan good because of the opportunity to move up in the standings, or bad because of the quality of opponents.
Either way, Ohio State used two safeties to clear the first hurdle, beating Purdue 35-9.
“I haven”t been around too many games where you get two safeties,” Ohio State coach Jim Tressel said. “Not only do you get the two points both times but that normally gets you the ball back in good field position.”
With Illinois up next, the Buckeyes are starting to eye the Big Ten title and its BCS bid. If Ohio State beats No. 12 Illinois (5-1, 8-1), and wins at Michigan (5-1, 7-2), the Buckeyes would win at least a share of the title, and would take the BCS bowl bid virtue of beating the two teams who are also contending for the title.
“We have two people on the standings who are both in front of us, and that”s fortunate for us,” Tressel said. “The Big Ten title was definitely our goal at the beginning of the year.”
Milling around: After starting 0-4, Penn State has rebounded to win four of its last five games. The resurgence was led by freshman quarterback Zack Mills, who replaced Matt Senneca as the quarterback that receives most of the playing time.
But up 21-7 at Illinois last week in a game Penn State went on to lose 33-28 Mills sprained his ankle and didn”t return.
“It”s a day-by-day thing,” Penn State coach Joe Paterno said. “Hopefully, he”ll be ready by Saturday.”