football game, also known as the "The Catch,"
"The Clock Game,"
was played on November 3, 2001, in Spartan
Stadium. The game was
controversial because of a situation involving the timekeeper.
While the game was closely-played throughout, it is the game's
conclusion that is most remembered. On fourth-and-goal, with one
second remaining in the fourth quarter, Michigan State quarterback
threw a touchdown pass to
running back T. J. Duckett
time expired to win 26-24. However, some claim the clock should
have run out prior to the winning play. Big Ten officials contended
that the clock operator had done nothing wrong. As a result of the
game and following a petition from Michigan head coach Lloyd Carr,
the NCAA now keeps official time on the
Lead-up to the game
Wolverines came into East
Lansing with a 6-1 (4-0) record and a number 6 ranking
behind wins against , , Penn State,
Iowa, and eventual
Big Ten champion Illinois.
Michigan was the only team in the Big Ten without a loss four games
into the Big Ten season, and despite an early nonconference loss at
, the Wolverines were considered national title contenders. The
Wolverines led the Big Ten conference in rushing defense and looked
to put the brakes on Michigan State running back T. J. Duckett
on the ground. In the previous week,
linebacker Larry Foote
set a University
of Michigan school record with 7 tackles for a loss and hoped to
put serious pressure on the Spartan offense.
The Spartans came into the contest 4-2 (2-2) with early losses at
and at Minnesota
led the Big Ten in passing yards behind star sophomore wide
and sophomore quarterback Jeff
. The Spartans had won three of the previous four
meetings against the Wolverines in East Lansing. It was coach Bobby
Williams' first home game against the Wolverines. Kickoff return
specialist and wide receiver Herb Haygood lead the nation in
kickoff return average and looked to give the Wolverines a serious
challenge on special teams.
The game started on a chilly, clear afternoon (3:30 Eastern
Kickoff) and darkness quickly fell in the late autumn East Lansing
day. Fans and students lined up for hours and the stadium was
packed well over the 72,072 capacity listed. The Michigan State
University Spartan Marching Band
and Michigan Marching Band
present adding to the atmosphere and stadium excitement. ABC
carried the game live nationally with commentators
and Brent Musburger
On the opening drive of the game Michigan State found itself in 4th
and 11 on Michigan's 32 yard line and punter Craig Jarrett walked
onto the field. The Spartans lined up two wide receivers and faked
the punt. The pass was incomplete, but Michigan safety Brandon Williams
for pass interference for his coverage on Charles Rogers
gave MSU a fresh set of downs and 15 extra yards. Two plays later,
threw a touchdown to Rogers
in the back of the end zone to give the Spartans a 7-0 lead.
On the ensuing drive, Michigan kicker Hayden Epstein nailed a
57-yard field goal to put the Wolverines on the board 7-3.
At 12:07 of the 2nd quarter, Michigan took its first lead on a 14
yard touchdown pass from John Navarre
to Marquise Walker, making the score 10-7.
On 3rd and 4, 7:45 into the 2nd quarter, the Spartans were driving
on the Wolverines 13-yard line. Jeff
threw an incomplete pass to Charles Rogers
in the end
zone, but Michigan was called for another pass interference call.
The penalty gave MSU first and goal, and on the very next play,
ran 2 yards up the middle
putting MSU up 14-10. The costly penalty by Michigan safety
likely gave the Spartans a
touchdown instead of a field goal.
The Wolverines struck back on the next series, as Marquise Walker
caught a 32-yard touchdown pass to give Michigan the lead,
Michigan State had its own penalty trouble - 4:21 into the second
half a touchdown by T. J. Duckett
called back for holding. Jeff Smoker
sacked on 3rd down, and MSU failed to convert the field goal
attempt, so the score remained 17-14.
MSU kicked a 17-yard field goal with 12 seconds remaining in the
quarter to knot the score at 17-17.
With 7:33 remaining, Dave Rayner
another 17-yard field goal. MSU takes a 20-17 lead.
After a Jeff Smoker
fumble on 1st down,
Michigan recovered and John Navarre
threw an 18-yard touchdown to backup quarterback Jermaine Gonzales
(lined up as a wide receiver) to take a 24-20 lead.
With 2:28 remaining in the fourth quarter, Michigan was forced to
punt deep in its own zone. The kick was high and short, giving the
Spartans excellent field position at their opponent's 44-yard-line.
On first down, MSU quarterback Jeff
was sacked at midfield by defensive end Shantee Orr
for the Wolverines' tenth sack of
the game. Two incompletions later, the Spartans faced 4th-and-16
with just 1:25 left in regulation.
On fourth down, Smoker's pass fell incomplete, but Michigan
defensive back Jeremy LeSueur
flagged for grabbing the facemask of receiver Charles Rogers
the Spartans fifteen yards and an automatic first down. Two plays
later, wide receiver Herb Haygood caught a pass over the middle for
13 yards and another first down.
On 1st-and-10, Smoker was sacked again by the Wolverine defense. As
the players turned to walk off the field, a flag was thrown against
the Wolverines for too many men on the field. With 36 seconds
remaining, the illegal participation call resulted in half the
distance to the goal being marked off. Michigan State called a
timeout before they realized that there was a penalty and did not
request it back after the penalty was called, even though the
penalty stopped the clock. On 2nd-and-4, LeSueur broke up a pass
intended for Duckett to bring up 3rd-and-4. After an incompletion
in the back of the end zone, Smoker completed a slant up the middle
to T. J.
for first and goal on the
Michigan 3-yard line.
MSU rushed to spike the ball to stop the clock at 0:17, after which
Michigan used a timeout. On second and goal, Jeff Smoker
rolled to the right and ran the ball
down to the one-yard line, but stayed inbounds, so the clock
continued to run. With time running out, the Spartans frantically
lined up to spike the ball; when they did so, the stadium clock
showed one second remaining. Michigan coaches and players argued
that the clock should have expired on the play, but game officials
did not agree. Michigan commentator Frank Beckmann speculated that
Michigan State had benefited from its home field advantage. Later,
Frank Beckmann failed to note that independent reviews of the tape
failed to confirm his thinking. On the ensuing play, Jeff Smoker
lobbed a pass into the back of the
end zone where it was caught by T.
, giving the Spartans a 26-24
Debates on the last remaining second continue to this day. Some
contend that clock operator Bob Stehlin, known colloquially as
"Spartan Bob," stopped the clock before the spike play had actually
concluded, to give the Spartans one more chance. Others have
countered by arguing that the game clock in Spartan Stadium could
only show the time to the nearest second, leaving open the
possibility that a fraction of a second was left. In reality, he
might have stopped the clock when the ball hit the ground, like the
rule calls for.
completion of the game, University of Michigan Head Coach Lloyd Carr
petitioned the Big Ten head office to review the rules regarding
Previously, the home team appointed an
individual of their choosing to keep the official time in the
pressbox. However, as a result of the clock issue during the game,
the Big Ten changed its timekeeping policy for the 2002 season.
Now, time is kept on the field by a neutral official appointed by
the Big Ten. The official can be recognized by his red hat and
In addition to agreeing to change its policy on timekeeping, the
began a study on the feasibility of
an instant replay system. In 2004, the Big Ten was the first
conference to begin a trial replay system for conference games
only. In 2005, most NCAA division 1A teams had the option of using
instant replay for their games. Finally, in 2006, instant replay
became standard across all of
. However, this type of
call is not reviewable based on current rules.
- T.J. Duckett set a new MSU record for most rushing
yards against Michigan (211), previously held by Lorenzo White with 185 yards.
- Michigan recorded 11 sacks of MSU quarterback Jeff Smoker.