“I thought our guys played hard throughout the game,” Rutgers head coach Greg Schiano said. “We’re a young team, and we made some young-team mistakes today. But, this is a big experience for our guys, and we’ll keep learning and improving and moving forward.”
On the Knights’ third offensive play of the game, Rutgers’ Ryan Hart (Coral Springs, FL) connected with sophomore Shawn Tucker (Parkland, FL) on a short pass, and Tucker found the seam up the right side for a 65-yard touchdown. Senior Ryan Sands (Shenendoah, PA) converted the extra point to give the Knights a 7-0 lead with 12:37 remaining in the first quarter. The Spartans answered with a 51-yard touchdown pass of their own, evening the score less than two minutes later.
On Michigan State’s next drive, the Spartans tried to surprise Rutgers with a trick play, but sophomore William Beckford (Belle Glade, FL) intercepted the pass. Even though the Rutgers drive ended on downs on the MSU 35, the RU defense held, and Michigan State was forced to punt.
Deep in its own end, Rutgers used another big pass play to set up a go-ahead score, as Hart connected with sophomore Brian Leonard (Gouverneur, NY) on a screen pass that turned into a 71-yard gain. A seven-yard pass from Hart to freshman Sam Johnson (Midland Park, NJ) capped the drive, and Sands’ extra point gave the Knights a 14-7 advantage with 26 seconds to play in the first quarter.
A 62-yard Spartan pass tied the score at 14-14 with 9:24 remaining in the half, but the RU defense got the lead back on MSU’s next series, as senior Brandon Haw (Cheverly, MD) returned an interception 61 yards and Sands was good on the extra-point attempt for a 21-14 advantage with 6:52 on the clock. However, the lead was short-lived, as Michigan State returned the kickoff 94 yards and again tied the score.
Michigan State took its first lead at the 3:05 mark of the second quarter on a 27-yard pass, then tacked on a 38-yard field goal in the half’s final seconds to take a 31-21 lead into the locker room. The Spartans took control of the game with an interception return for a touchdown in the third quarter’s opening moments, and added 30-yard (3:27, third) and 23-yard (11:13, fourth) field goals to pull ahead 44-21.
A Gary Gibson (Jamesville, NY) fumble recovery on the Spartans’ 31-yard line set up a Leonard two-yard touchdown run (5:09), the final score of the game.
Hart completed 14 of 31 passes for a career-high 266 yards, throwing for two touchdowns. Leonard led the RU ground game with 12 carries for 31 yards, and Tucker caught five passes for 118 yards.
The Scarlet Knights will be back in action next Saturday, Sept. 13, when Rutgers plays at Army. Kickoff will be at 3:30 p.m. and the game will be shown on the MSG Network.
Rutgers vs. Michigan State – Post-Game Notes
Hart’s Top Two Throws Come in First Quarter
Coming into today’s game, sophomore QB Ryan Hart’s previous long completion was a 53-yard strike to TE LJ Smith vs. Temple last season (11/16/02). His first completion of the game was a 65-yard TD pass to Shawn Tucker, giving RU a 7-0 lead. Inside the 2-minute mark of the first, Hart then connected with FB Brian Leonard on a 72-yard catch-and-run which set up a seven-yard TD pass to freshman TE Sam Johnson. Hart finished the first quarter 5-for-8 for 170 yards and two TDS – just 55 yards shy of his career high, which he set last week vs. Buffalo (225)
*** Hart’s first pass attempt in both games this season has gone for a TD ***
Long Drives and Big Plays
Rutgers had touchdown drives of 80 and 91 yards in its season-opening win over Buffalo. Today, Rutgers’ second scoring drive went for 90 yards, highlighted by a 72-yard completion from Hart to Brian Leonard. The opening drive, which covered 69 yards, was highlighted by the 65-yard completion to Tucker.
Haw’s INT Return Longest Since 2001
Brandon Haw’s 61-yard INT reception was the longest since Nate Jones returned an interception 70 yards vs. BC on Nov. 17, 2001 at Rutgers Stadium. Haw now has six INTs in his career, the most on the team, including four in 2002. It was also the first INT returned for a TD since Shawn Seabrooks returned one 33 yards for a score vs. Army last season (9/14/02).
A Game of Firsts
William Beckford: A pass attempt by MSU wide receiver Agim Shabaj was intercepted by LB William Beckford at the 8:58 mark of the first quarter – RU’s first interception of the season.
William Beckford (P. II): Beckford recorded his first career sack on a 3rd-and-9 play inside the 13:00 mark of the second quarter.
Sam Johnson: A seven-yard reception in the first quarter was not both his first career catch and touchdown. He was the ninth different receiver that Ryan Hart has connected with this season. In 2002, two freshmen (Markis Facyson, Shawn Tucker) caught TD passes.
William Vogt: Made his first career appearance, replacing Marty Pyszczymuka
in the second offensive series of the second half.
He played one series before Pyszczymuka returned to the game.
Spartan Stadium Highs
Today’s game marks RU’s third visit to Spartan Stadium, but its first loss. The Scarlet Knights and Spartans both set series highs for points. MSU bested its 34-point output in a 34-10 win at Giants Stadium in 1990, while Rutgers exceeded its 17-point output from its 1988 win in East Lansing.
Spartans Pass for Most Yards vs. RU Under Schiano
MSU QB Jeff Smoker set a new record for passing yards (331 through end of 3rd quarter) since the hiring of head coach Greg Schiano. Prior to today’s game, the most passing yards vs. Rutgers came last season vs. Villanova, when Brett Gordan threw for 321 yards on August 31. Below are the game highs dating back to the 1999 season:
Past Passing Highs
10/23/99 – David Priestley, Pitt, 375 yards
9/2/00 – Brett Gordan, Villanova, 285 yards
9/7/01 – Dorsey, Miami, 315 yards
8/31/02 -- Brett Gordan, Villlanova 321 yards
NCAAF FINAL 1ST 2ND 3RD 4TH TOTAL --- --- --- --- ----- RUTGERS 14 7 0 7 28 MICHIGAN ST 7 24 10 3 44 FINAL SCORING SUMMARY 1ST QUARTER: RUTGERS - TD, SHAWN TUCKER 65 YD PASS FROM RYAN HART (RYAN SANDS KICK), 2:23. RUTGERS 7-0 MICHIGAN ST - TD, JAREN HAYES 51 YD PASS FROM JEFF SMOKER (DAVE RAYNER KICK), 4:18. RUTGERS 7-7 RUTGERS - TD, SAM JOHNSON 7 YD PASS FROM RYAN HART (RYAN SANDS KICK), 14:34. RUTGERS 14-7 2ND QUARTER: MICHIGAN ST - TD, AGIM SHABAJ 62 YD PASS FROM JEFF SMOKER (DAVE RAYNER KICK), 5:36. RUTGERS 14-14 RUTGERS - TD, BRANDON HAW 61 YD INTERCEPTION RETURN (RYAN SANDS KICK), 8:08. RUTGERS 21-14 MICHIGAN ST - TD, DEANDRA COBB 94 YD KICKOFF RETURN (DAVE RAYNER KICK), 8:21. RUTGERS 21-21 MICHIGAN ST - TD, JAREN HAYES 27 YD PASS FROM JEFF SMOKER (DAVE RAYNER KICK), 11:55. MICHIGAN ST 28-21 MICHIGAN ST - FG, DAVE RAYNER 38 YD, 14:33. MICHIGAN ST 31-21 3RD QUARTER: MICHIGAN ST - TD, MONQUIZ WEDLOW 29 YD INTERCEPTION RETURN (DAVE RAYNER KICK), 1:35. MICHIGAN ST 38-21 MICHIGAN ST - FG, DAVE RAYNER 30 YD, 11:33. MICHIGAN ST 41-21 4TH QUARTER: MICHIGAN ST - FG, DAVE RAYNER 24 YD, 3:47. MICHIGAN ST 44-21 RUTGERS - TD, BRIAN LEONARD 2 YD RUN (RYAN SANDS KICK), 9:51. MICHIGAN ST 44-28