Spartans Prepare For Shootout Against Hawaii
Michigan State can reach the .500 mark with a win over the Warriors in the season finale.
Dec. 3, 2004
HONOLULU (AP) - Before arriving on the islands, Michigan State prepared as best as it could for Hawaii, the tropical climate and the time difference. But there was one factor the Spartans may have overlooked.
"The other factor is just the beauty of Hawaii," Spartans coach John L. Smith said. "There's so many distractions that it's hard to keep your mind on the game. My goodness, there's beautiful Polynesian gals walking around. The last things these guys are thinking about is football."
That's just the way Hawaii wants it.
The Warriors (6-5) need a win Saturday night against the Spartans (5-6) to earn an invitation to the Hawaii Bowl for the third straight year.
"This game means a lot. If we lose, we don't want to live the rest of our lives saying, `We should've. We could've,'" Warriors running back West Keliikipi said. "If we lose, it'll be devastating. We worked too hard."
A loss for Hawaii will also close the storied career of quarterback Timmy Chang, who this year became the most prolific passer in college football history. He owns the career NCAA marks for passing yardage (16,251), attempts (2,341), completions (1,328), interceptions (80) and total offense (16,066).
"It's always hard to see (the seniors) go, but these guys have been here for five years -- since I've been here. So you get attached to them," Hawaii coach June Jones said.
Chang, who has thrown for 3,437 yards and 30 touchdowns this season, is playing his best football as of late. He has 781 passing yards and 10 TDs in his last two games.
His favorite target is pint-sized playmaker Chad Owens, who scored five times and had 276 all-purpose yards in Hawaii's 49-41 victory over Northwestern last week.
The 5-foot-7 Owens is seventh in the nation in receiving with 7.36 receptions per game. He has also returned four punt for touchdowns this season.
"You got some great talent at wideout," Smith said. "They run down the field and catch the ball. That little Owens guy is probably as good as there is in the country."
Despite winning six straight at home, Hawaii is an underdog as it tries to beat a second Big Ten opponent in as many weeks.
"We want to stay alive," Hawaii cornerback Abraham Elimimian said. "If we win this game, it's going to be very magical. If we don't, it's a bad way to end it as a senior."
The Spartans are trying to finish their season on a winning note to avoid a losing season. Michigan State, eliminated from bowl contention with a 37-13 loss to Penn State on Nov. 20, had two weeks to prepare for Hawaii.
To adjust to the tropical heat and the time difference, Michigan State's indoor practice facility in East Lansing was heated to nearly 80 degrees with high humidity and workouts were held around midnight.
Michigan State also endured a 12-hour trip to Honolulu.
"I think they'll come ready to play," Jones said. "They have had some time off and this will be their bowl game so, I think they'll play very well."
Since the Spartans didn't make it to the postseason, they don't want to help any other team get to a bowl.
"We went into Penn State two weeks ago and they took our bowl dreams away, so we're hoping to come in and do the same thing here," Spartans quarterback Drew Stanton said.
Michigan State should have success on the ground against the worst rushing defense in the nation. Hawaii allows 38.3 points a game and 258.5 rushing yards per contest.
The Spartans average 235.8 yards rushing and use a trio of running backs led by Jason Teague, who has 654 yards and five TDs.
Stanton is the team's second leading rusher with 611 yards and five touchdowns. He has also thrown for 1,271 yards and seven TDs in nine games.
But teams can't just run all night against Hawaii, which averages 43 points per game at Aloha Stadium.
"You can, but it's not going to do you any good because you've better score 50 because that's what they do to you," he said. "June's going to hang 50 on you."
By JAYMES SONG, The Associated Press