2002 Cal @ Michigan State: 8th Best Non Big Game of the 2000s

 

[We are ranking the best non Big Games of the 2000s So far, we have #10 - Baylor, 2002, #9 - Washington, 2006]

Michigan-state-football_medium

via www.waterfordestateslodge.com

The year was 2002.  Cal had started off the season with a bang under its new head coach, Jeff Tedford.  In the opening game of the season, Cal defeated Baylor a whopping 70-22.  The next week, Cal defeated New Mexico State at home 34-13.  Cal fans were riding high off the back-to-back wins; back-to-back wins that they hadn't seen since the 1998 season.  As the final seconds of the New Mexico State game wound down, Cal fans even chanted "undefeated!" in celebration of their 2-0 start.   Yes, hard to believe but it's true.  Cal hadn't won back-to-back games for four years.  So, as far as 100% of Cal fans were concerned, this Jeff Tedford fellow was a god. 

But reality had started to seep in a bit.  Cal had won back to back games, but it was against a lowly Baylor team (would finish 3-9 on the year) and a lowly New Mexico State team (would finish 7-5 on the year).  Now, Cal was going on the road against a real team: Michigan State. 

Michigan-state-football-2-4669_medium

via www.msusportstravel.com

Scary!

Michigan State was ranked #15 in the nation.  They were a legit Big-10 team.  These were no powder-puff pansies from the Sun Belt conference.  These were blue-chip prospects who were battle hardened from butting heads with The Ohio State, Michigan, and Penn State on a regular basis.  They also had some hot-shot WR named Charles Rogers (future #2 overall NFL draft pick) who was like really really really good, and can score touchdowns with only one shoe on and both hands tied behind his back.  In other words, Cal had no chance.

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via a.espncdn.com

Charles Rogers, #1 offensive threat to college defenses

 

This whole beating-Baylor-by-48-points deal two weeks ago was pretty cute.  And then the whole winning-back-to-back-games deal was pretty slick too.  But Cal fans knew what was up.  Cal was Cal: doormat of the Pac-10. Cal was going to lose.

Even your very own beloved Marshawnthusiasts waived the white flag before the game was played.  In our (the Marshawnthusiasts) emails to each other last week discussing who would write this very post, we reminisced the reason why I would have to write this post:

Avinash: TwistNHook, Ragnarok, YellowFever, HydroTech, one of you guys should tackle [writing this post], since I don't think the rest of us were here.

YellowFever: I don't remember much about the game since it was away, and I'm not even sure it was on television.  Ragnarok, were you there for that?

Ragnarok: Funny story, actually.  TwistNHook, YellowFever and I all missed watching the Michigan State game (which *was* televised) because, since we were so terrible the previous year, I assumed we were guaranteed to lose that game and I went ahead and scheduled our fraternity's retreat for that weekend.  Whoops!

I think HydroTech is going to have to tackle this one.

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via i.ytimg.com

Ragnarok, YellowFever, and TwistNHook (from left to right) going on a fraternity retreat.

Don't you just love the optimism?  (By the way, that really is a transcript of our emails to each other)

So here I am, writing you this post because I did actually watch the game.  It was on TV.  I was young.  I was naive.  I had faith in this Jeff Tedford fellow.  I hadn't experienced the heartbreak of Cal Football losing a game yet, like my older fellow Marshawnthusiasts, and thus I did not purposely schedule some other activity on this Cal Football Saturday.

I remember turning on my little crappy 13 inch TV that I had in my room.  I might have been the only one of my roommates to actually have interest in the game.  My other roommates had told me beforehand that we didn't stand a chance against #15 Michigan State.

So I watched alone.  (I'm a loner in real life too.  Anybody want to be my friend?)

The game started off slow with Cal punting early:

California at 14:50 CAL MSU
1st and 10 at CAL 23 Kyle Boller (CAL) pass left side complete to Joe Igber (CAL) for 22 yards. 0 0
1st and 10 at CAL 45 Joe Igber (CAL) rushed up the middle for 4 yards.    
2nd and 6 at CAL 49 Kyle Boller (CAL) pass incomplete to the right side.    
3rd and 6 at CAL 49 Kyle Boller (CAL) rushed right side for 1 yard.    
4th and 5 at MSU 50 Punt by Tyler Fredrickson (CAL) returned 1 yards by Ziehl Kavanaght (MSU) to the Spartans 22.

Michigan State now had the ball, and Cal fans knew what was up.  Yup, time to give up a score:

1st and 10 at MSU 22 Jeff Smoker (MSU) pass incomplete to the right side. 0 0
2nd and 10 at MSU 22 Dawan Moss (MSU) rushed right side for 4 yards.    
3rd and 6 at MSU 26 Jeff Smoker (MSU) pass left side complete to Eric Knott (MSU) for 5 yards.    
4th and 1 at MSU 31 Punt by Jason Daily (MSU) returned 2 yards by Jemeel Powell (CAL) to the Golden Bears 27.

Wha?  Huh?  Michigan State goes 3-and-out?!  Alright! 

Now time for the Cal offense to put some points on the board:

California at 12:40 CAL MSU
1st and 10 at CAL 27 Joe Igber (CAL) rushed up the middle for 4 yards. 0 0
2nd and 6 at CAL 31 Kyle Boller (CAL) pass right side complete to Jonathan Makonnen (CAL) for 8 yards.    
1st and 10 at CAL 39 Joe Igber (CAL) rushed left side for 2 yards.    
2nd and 8 at CAL 41 15 yard penalty on Spartans.    
1st and 10 at MSU 44 Kyle Boller (CAL) pass right side complete to Geoff McArthur (CAL) for 14 yards.    
1st and 10 at MSU 30 Kyle Boller (CAL) pass incomplete to the right side.    
2nd and 10 at MSU 30 Kyle Boller (CAL) pass incomplete to the left side.    
3rd and 10 at MSU 30 Kyle Boller (CAL) pass incomplete to the left side.    
4th and 10 at MSU 30 46 yard field goal by Mark-Christian Jensen (CAL) is no good.    
DRIVE TOTALS: 8 plays, 43 yards

Noooo!!!  Alamar!  That blasted Alamar was cursing us even before he arrived at Cal!  (Pete Alamar did not join the Cal coaching staff until the year 2003). 

So Michigan State gets the ball back and actually starts moving it against the Cal defense:

Michigan State at 10:30 CAL MSU
1st and 10 at CAL 30 Dawan Moss (MSU) rushed right side for 7 yards. 0 0
2nd and 3 at MSU 37 Dawan Moss (MSU) rushed up the middle for 1 yard.    
3rd and 2 at MSU 38 Jeff Smoker (MSU) pass right side complete to Jason Randall (MSU) for 16 yards.    
1st and 10 at CAL 46 Dawan Moss (MSU) rushed left side for 1 yard.    
2nd and 9 at CAL 45 Jeff Smoker (MSU) pass incomplete to the left side.    
3rd and 9 at CAL 45 Jeff Smoker (MSU) pass incomplete across the middle.

Cal stops Michigan State on a critical 3rd down!  MSU has to punt!  And then...

4th and 9 at CAL 10 Punt by Jason Daily (MSU) returned 90 yards by Jemeel Powell (CAL) for a touchdown. 6 0
DRIVE TOTALS: 1 play, 90 yards

BOOMSHAKALAKA!   Cal is in the game, baby!  

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OVq2cjInhkw#t=2m57s (click to see the youtube video of the punt return!  Thanks to swamphunter for doing this)

P-powell_medium

via graphics.fansonly.com

Cal's punt returner extraordinaire pre-Desean Jackson

 

I remember watching Jemeel Powell run towards the upper right corner of my TV screen.  I started jumping up and down screaming.  My other house-mates came running into the room to see what was going on. 

Their eyes were wide with amazement as if they were thinking: Cal wasn't losing by 21 points already???

Granted, it was only 7 points, and the rest of the first quarter slipped by without either team scoring more points... but then this Cal freight train started picking up steam.  Jeff Tedford, in a bewildering strategy, called for the offense to go 3-and-out so we had to punt.  What was he thinking???

California at 11:46 CAL MSU
1st and 10 at CAL 20 5 yard penalty on Spartans. 7 0
1st and 10 at CAL 25 Kyle Boller (CAL) pass left side complete to Geoff McArthur (CAL) for -2 yards.    
2nd and 12 at CAL 28 Kyle Boller (CAL) pass incomplete to the right side.    
3rd and 12 at CAL 28 Kyle Boller (CAL) pass right side complete to Geoff McArthur (CAL) for 4 yards.    
4th and 8 at CAL 32 Punt by Tyler Fredrickson (CAL) no return by Spartans.  Ball downed at MSU's 2 yardline.
   
DRIVE TOTALS: 3 plays, 8 yards

Ah, but the genius of Tedford's strategy showed when Michigan State's offense took the field with their butts against their own goalline.  Cal had pinned Michigan State at their own two yard line. 

You know what time it is?  SAAAAFFFFEEETTTTTYYYY!!!

Michigan State at 10:33 CAL MSU
1st and 10 at MSU 2 Jeff Smoker (MSU) pass incomplete across the middle. 7 0
2nd and 10 at MSU 2 Dawan Moss (MSU) rushed up the middle for 1 yard.    
3rd and 9 at MSU 3 3 yard penalty on Spartans.    
3rd and 12 at MSU 0 Golden Bears safety.

BOOM SHAKALKA!!!  Safety! 

Oh the genius!  The sheer genius!  No head coach in America would have the cajones to purposely have their own offense go 3-and-out to punt the ball and pin the opposing team against their own goalline in order to get a safety!  TEDFORD IS A GENIUS!!! 

Seriously, ladies and gents.  If you watched this game, you were looking at the work of a genius.  Because, not only did Cal get 2 points, but it also got the ball back!!!  OMG!  Tedford knows his rulebook!!!

So Cal gets the ball back on the free kick by Michigan State and...

1st and Goal at CAL 15 Kickoff returned by LaShaun Ward (CAL) for 56 yards.    
California at 9:30 CAL MSU
1st and 10 at MSU 29 LaShaun Ward (CAL) pass incomplete to the right side. 9 0
2nd and 10 at MSU 29 Kyle Boller (CAL) pass incomplete across the middle.    
3rd and 10 at MSU 29 5 yard penalty on Golden Bears.    
3rd and 15 at MSU 34 Kyle Boller (CAL) pass incomplete to the right side.    
4th and 15 at MSU 34 51 yard field goal by Mark-Christian Jensen (CAL) is good.   

Field goal! Cal now leads 12-0!!!  Granted, it's still only a two-possession game, but Cal fans would take it anyways!  We were winning against the #15 team in the nation! 

But deep in the back of everyone's mind was the thought: when is the real Cal team going to show up and lose this game?

Not today, baby, not today. 

Michigan State returns our ensuing kickoff and...

1st and Goal at MSU 0 Kickoff returned by Jaren Hayes (MSU) for 20 yards.    
Michigan State at 8:39 CAL MSU
1st and 10 at MSU 20 Spartans fumble by Jaren Hayes (MSU), recovered by Donnie McCleskey (CAL), returned for no gain.

FFFFUUUUMMMMBBBBLLLLEEEE!!!  Donnie McCleskey recovers the rock!  Cal has prime field position at Michigan State's own 20 yard line.  And then...

California at 8:39 CAL MSU
1st and 10 at MSU 20 Kyle Boller (CAL) pass left side complete to Joe Igber (CAL) for -5 yards. 12 0
2nd and 15 at MSU 25 Kyle Boller (CAL) pass incomplete to the right side.    
3rd and 15 at MSU 25 Kyle Boller (CAL) pass across the middle complete to Jonathan Makonnen (CAL) for 20 yards.    
1st and 5 at MSU 5 Joe Igber (CAL) rushed up the middle for 1 yard.    
2nd and 4 at MSU 4 15 yard penalty on Golden Bears.    
2nd and 19 at MSU 19 5 yard penalty on Golden Bears.    
2nd and 24 at MSU 24 Kyle Boller (CAL) pass incomplete to the left side.    
3rd and 24 at MSU 24 Kyle Boller (CAL) pass across the middle complete to Jonathan Makonnen (CAL) for 14 yards.    
4th and 10 at MSU 10 27 yard field goal by Mark-Christian Jensen (CAL) is good. 15 0

MORE POINTS!  Another field goal!  I remember one of my roommates (one who had lived through the 2001 Holmoecaust) calmly say "wow, what's going on?!" 

We were all waiting for Cal to lose, but it just wasn't going to happen.  The entire Cal team had been touched by angels.  They were the Harbingers of Good and Slayers of Evil. 

California at 2:45 CAL MSU
1st and 10 at CAL 33 Joe Igber (CAL) rushed up the middle for 4 yards. 15 0
2nd and 6 at CAL 37 Kyle Boller (CAL) pass incomplete to the right side.    
3rd and 6 at CAL 37 Kyle Boller (CAL) pass across the middle complete to Tom Swoboda (CAL) for 12 yards.    
1st and 10 at CAL 49 Kyle Boller (CAL) pass right side complete to Geoff McArthur (CAL) for 14 yards.    
1st and 10 at MSU 37 Kyle Boller (CAL) sacked for a loss of 7 yards.    
2nd and 17 at MSU 44 15 yard penalty on Spartans.    
1st and 10 at MSU 29 Kyle Boller (CAL) pass right side complete to Geoff McArthur (CAL) for 15 yards.    
1st and 10 at MSU 14 LaShaun Ward (CAL) pass left side complete to Kyle Boller (CAL) for a 14 yard touchdown. 21 0
0th and Goal at MSU 0 Extra point by Mark-Christian Jensen (CAL) is good. 22 0

OH YEAH.  YOU RED THAT WRITE. 

LaShaun Ward threw a touchdown pass to Kyle Boller!  I remember that play pretty well.  The offense ran the ball to their right, with Boller booting around the backside undefended.  Ward then threw the ball to Boller who ran, gave a lil' shimmy shake to a defender, and bowled his way head-first into the endzone. 

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OVq2cjInhkw#t=3m59s (click to see the Youtube video of this play)

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via mrpeepersgossip.com

Kyle Boller has moves on and off the football field!  Congratulations, Kyle, on your marriage to Carrie Prejean!

This was getting unreal.  Cal was on the road, against the #15 team in nation.  In a hostile stadium of 72,000 fans, was putting a slow, but steady beat down on the home team.

Michigan State wanted dearly to get to halftime without giving up any more points.  Lucky for them, there were only 11 seconds left in the 2nd quarter. 

BUT WAIT...

Michigan State at 0:11 CAL MSU
1st and 10 at MSU 32 Spartans fumble by Jason Bradley (MSU), recovered by Obi Amajoyi (CAL), returned for no gain. 22 0
DRIVE TOTALS: 0 plays, 0 yards

GOD JUST DOESN'T LIKE YOU TODAY, SPARTAN FANS!

Cal gets the ball back with time to spare on Michigan State's own 28 yard line!!!  Then MSU proceeds to aid Cal in scoring more points!!!

California at 0:11 CAL MSU
1st and 10 at MSU 28 14 yard penalty on Spartans. 22 0
1st and 10 at MSU 14 32 yard field goal by Mark-Christian Jensen (CAL) is good. 25 0
1st and Goal at MSU 14 End of the 2nd quarter.    
DRIVE TOTALS: 1 play, 14 yards

Pass Interference penalty!  Then another field goal!

AT HALFTIME, CAL IS LEADING THE #15 TEAM IN THE NATION 25-0!!!

Wow.  By this time.  My roommates, and other people randomly in my place of abode had gathered in my room (I was one of the few people with a TV and cable in my room).  None of us could believe it. 

Could it get any better?  Could Cal actually hold out for another 30 minutes and win the game? 

Answer: Maybe.

Michigan State at 14:50 CAL MSU
1st and 10 at MSU 28 Dawan Moss (MSU) rushed up the middle for 4 yards. 25 0
2nd and 6 at MSU 32 Dawan Moss (MSU) rushed up the middle for 2 yards.    
3rd and 4 at MSU 34 Jeff Smoker (MSU) pass right side complete to Charles Rogers (MSU) for 8 yards.    
1st and 10 at MSU 42 David Richard (MSU) rushed up the middle for 4 yards.    
2nd and 6 at MSU 46 David Richard (MSU) rushed left side for 7 yards.    
1st and 10 at CAL 47 Jeff Smoker (MSU) pass right side complete to Charles Rogers (MSU) for 30 yards.    
1st and 10 at CAL 17 Jeff Smoker (MSU) pass left side complete to Ziehl Kavanaght (MSU) for 2 yards.    
2nd and 8 at CAL 15 Jeff Smoker (MSU) pass incomplete across the middle.    
3rd and 8 at CAL 15

Jeff Smoker (MSU) pass across the middle complete to Charles Rogers (MSU) for a 15 yard touchdown.

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via graphics.fansonly.com

Cal fans were beginning to think you weren't even in the game, Mr. Rogers.


25 6
0th and Goal at MSU 0 Extra point by Dave Rayner (MSU) is good.

Michigan State starts off the game with a long drive and a 7 point touchdown.  Clearly, they had had enough of this crap. 

They decided to play defense too and on Cal's first play of the second half...

California at 10:27 CAL MSU
1st and 10 at CAL 20 Kyle Boller (CAL) pass across the middle intercepted by Jason Harmon (MSU). Returned for no gain. 25 7
DRIVE TOTALS: 1 play, 0 yards

Crap...

Michigan State at 10:19 CAL MSU
1st and 10 at MSU 43 David Richard (MSU) rushed up the middle for 1 yard. 25 7
2nd and 9 at MSU 44 Jeff Smoker (MSU) pass left side complete to Charles Rogers (MSU) for 10 yards.    
1st and 10 at CAL 46 Jeff Smoker (MSU) pass incomplete to the right side.    
2nd and 10 at CAL 46 Jeff Smoker (MSU) pass incomplete to the right side.    
3rd and 10 at CAL 46 5 yard penalty on Golden Bears.    
3rd and 5 at CAL 41 10 yard penalty on Spartans.    
3rd and 15 at MSU 49 Jeff Smoker (MSU) pass across the middle complete to Charles Rogers (MSU) for 19 yards.    
1st and 10 at CAL 32 15 yard penalty on Golden Bears.    
1st and 10 at CAL 17 Dawan Moss (MSU) rushed up the middle for no gain.    
2nd and 10 at CAL 17 Jeff Smoker (MSU) pass left side complete to Ziehl Kavanaght (MSU) for 13 yards.    
1st and 4 at CAL 4 Dawan Moss (MSU) rushed up the middle for 1 yard.    
2nd and 3 at CAL 3

Jeff Smoker (MSU) pass across the middle complete to Jason Randall (MSU) for a 3 yard touchdown.

 

A-jeff_smoker011704_medium

via graphics.fansonly.com

Jeff Smoker smoking the Cal defense.
25 13
0th and Goal at MSU 0 Extra point by Dave Rayner (MSU) is good. 25 14

More crap........ the Cal team we all had known so well from 2001 was back, just handing out touchdowns like it's candy and today is Halloween. 

But then Cal responds back!

California at 6:30 CAL MSU
1st and 10 at CAL 31 Kyle Boller (CAL) pass left side complete to Geoff McArthur (CAL) for 10 yards. 25 14
1st and 10 at CAL 41 Joe Igber (CAL) rushed up the middle for 4 yards.    
2nd and 6 at CAL 45 Joe Igber (CAL) rushed right side for 13 yards.    
1st and 10 at MSU 42 Joe Igber (CAL) rushed right side for 5 yards.    
2nd and 5 at MSU 37 Kyle Boller (CAL) rushed right side for 3 yards.    
3rd and 2 at MSU 34 Joe Igber (CAL) rushed right side for 12 yards.    
1st and 10 at MSU 22 Terrell Williams (CAL) rushed left side for 7 yards.    
2nd and 3 at MSU 15 Terrell Williams (CAL) rushed left side for 13 yards.    
1st and 2 at MSU 2 Kyle Boller (CAL) rushed right side for a 2 yard touchdown. 31 14
0th and Goal at MSU 0 Extra point by Mark-Christian Jensen (CAL) is good. 32 14

And then to start off the fourth quarter...

California at 15:00 CAL MSU
2nd and 11 at MSU 23 Start of the 4th quarter. 32 14
2nd and 11 at MSU 23 Kyle Boller (CAL) pass incomplete to the right side.    
3rd and 11 at MSU 23

Kyle Boller (CAL) pass right side complete to Joe Igber (CAL) for a 23 yard touchdown.

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via publish.netitor.com


38 14
0th and Goal at MSU 0 Extra point by Mark-Christian Jensen (CAL) is good. 39 14

Cal finally seemed to be secure and in the driver's seat.  And Cal finally put the game out of reach with its final touchdown to seal the deal...

California at 12:01 CAL MSU
1st and 10 at CAL 16 Joe Igber (CAL) rushed up the middle for 4 yards. 39 14
2nd and 6 at CAL 20 Joe Igber (CAL) rushed up the middle for 4 yards.    
3rd and 2 at CAL 25 Kyle Boller (CAL) rushed left side for 2 yards.    
1st and 10 at CAL 27 Joe Igber (CAL) rushed up the middle for no gain.    
2nd and 10 at CAL 27 Kyle Boller (CAL) pass right side complete to Geoff McArthur (CAL) for 5 yards.    
3rd and 5 at CAL 32 Joe Igber (CAL) rushed left side for 10 yards.    
1st and 10 at CAL 42 Terrell Williams (CAL) rushed up the middle for 3 yards.    
2nd and 7 at CAL 45 Terrell Williams (CAL) rushed up the middle for 1 yard.    
3rd and 6 at CAL 46 Kyle Boller (CAL) pass right side complete to LaShaun Ward (CAL) for a 54 yard touchdown. 45 14
0th and Goal at MSU 0 Extra point by Mark-Christian Jensen (CAL) is good. 46 14

In the end, MSU did score 8 more points, and the final score was 46-22.

Cal fans were in shock.  Most of us were really wondering if maybe, just maybe, this Cal team was actually pretty good and it didn't just win its previous two games because Baylor and New Mexico State sucked so bad. 

Because, Cal just went on the road, against #15 Michigan State, in a stadium of 72,000 hostile fans, and laid the smack down to a tune of 46-22. 

Who does that?  There are rules in college football!  Upsets can't just happen like that for no reason! 

Tedford didn't seem like he was surprised by what happened:

"I don't think we need to be surprised or giddy about winning" -- Jeff Tedford after the 46-22 win against Michigan State.

Tedford was instilling winning expectations into our team and fans.  No longer were Cal fans and players allowed to expect to lose.  Every game was winnable.  Every game should be won.

"We know we have the athletes to play with anybody in the country.  Our coaching staff has told us that, and we're all believers. We expected to win here, so we're not surprised.'' -- LaShaun Ward after the 46-22 win against Michigan State

Cal now sat a pretty 3-0 for the first time since 1996, which was coach Steve Mariucci's only season before leaving for the San Francisco 49ers.

Cal was even named "Team of the Week" by the Football Writers Association of America, and garnered a ranking in the following week's Top25.

I think it was after this game, when Cal fans finally realized, that this was a new Cal Football team.  Even before this game, Cal fans still had doubts about whether the team was really good or not.  Beating Baylor and New Mexico State doesn't exactly instill a lot of confidence in anyone.  But after beating Michigan State, people realized that the 2001 team really was gone.  The 2001 team wouldn't have beat a ranked opponent on the road. 

This was 2002, and the Bears were back to being the hunters rather than the hunted.

A-powell091402_medium

via graphics.fansonly.com

CB Jemeel Powell celebrates with fans following a 46-22 upset of Michigan State. 

"72,000 disappointed fans!  72,000 disappointed fans!"  - Cal chants after the game.

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