Spartans face first test of season in Irish
By CHARLES ROBINSON
Spartan tailback Dawan Moss had never even touched the football in a game, and suddenly he was chugging 42 yards for a touchdown.
It was that kind of day for Eastern Michigan. The laughable 51-7 MSU win proved little for the Spartans, except that their reserves do have a pulse.
Other than experience for nonstarters, what can you take away from a game like this? Well, let's see.
Eagles quarterback Walt Church should invest in a health-care plan and some Tylenol the next time he faces a team that isn't in the Mid-American Conference. His offensive linemen were as effective as a screen door at stopping the pass rush, and his receivers were caked in Spartan defensive backs from the start.
Despite being considered a dangerous offense, the Eagles finished the game with a meager 130 total yards.
Somebody should send out a search party, because the dangerous persona vanished somewhere between warm-ups and the opening kickoff. The Eagles got past their own 44-yard line once, scoring a touchdown early in the fourth quarter. Other than that drive, little went right, even on special teams.
In a play typical of their day, kick returner Lincoln Dupree's shoe fell off as he ran out of the end zone.
Maybe Dupree should take a page from the Eagle Defense, which spent the day being tied in knots. For lack of anything else, the Spartans walked away with added experience on the depth chart. Nearly everyone played, and the team affordably showcased T.J. Duckett at tailback.
Unfortunately, the gained experience might cost the Spartans in the long run. Backup quarterback Ryan Van Dyke sprained his ankle late in the second quarter.
After attempting a pass, Van Dyke had his ankle twisted underneath him. He writhed in pain before limping off under the aid of trainers. Saban said X-rays were negative but couldn't assess the severity of the injury.
"We really wanted to play Ryan for a good portion of time there to get him some playing time," Saban said. "That (injury) kind of threw us off. I don't know when he'll be back."
A measuring stick Van Dyke's injury aside, the game really isn't much of a barometer on the Spartans' remaining schedule. Man for man, the Eagles were beaten before the first snap.
But even Saban admitted the dominance meant little. You can't beat the crap out of the neighborhood weakling and think you're ready to take on the bullies of the world.
"I don't think what we've accomplished to this point actually proves how good we are," Saban said. "It just proves that we have to get better. "I don't know how good we are."
Actually, I think I know how good the Spartans are. They're good enough to beat a decent PAC 10 team in the Oregon Ducks and good enough to tattoo 51 points on a crummy MAC squad.
Neither measures up to future Spartan foes Michigan, Wisconsin, Purdue, Penn State and Ohio State. The season's first real test will come next week with a flailing Notre Dame team.
The Irish aren't a team of phantom could-be and might-be players.
After dropping their second straight game to Purdue, there's no reason to believe the Irish are ready to pack in the season.
But just a word of advice to the Irish just in case the Spartans really are as good as they looked against the Eagles: Stock up on aspirin, double knot your cleats and watch out for Moss.
The views epessed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.
All Sports Stories for Friday, September 17, 1999