Pick-six highlights Tyson Smith's comeback from stroke

Cory Olsen
Special to The Detroit News
Fans were on their feet and his teammates were jumping with joy as Michigan State's Tyson Smith picked off this pass and ran it back for a touchdown in the third quarter.

East Lansing — It was one of the most heartwarming celebrations you'll find on a football field.

Michigan State junior cornerback Tyson Smith jogged back to the sideline after intercepting the ball and returning it 38 yards for a touchdown Saturday.

After being embraced by his teammates and coaches and after the Spartans prevailed 35-10 over the Falcons, Smith talked about his stroke that occurred two days after the end of last season, which nearly ended his football career.

"It was probably about a 70 percent chance that I thought I wasn't going to come back (to play football) to a 30 percent chance that I was," Smith said. "I was still hopeful, still faithful. My teammates, my coaches, everybody was behind me, but I thought it was a low chance of me coming back."

Smith slowly recovered from the effects of the stroke and finally made his way back to the team last month.

"The feeling when I just stepped on the field was more than football, it was a blessing to see that I'm still me," Smith said. "I felt normal, I didn't know for sure if I was normal. It was just a blessing."

The play happened like many others; the ball is snapped and everything goes into slow motion.

"First thing, they say 'hit,' they've got about 10 yards to go to get a first down, make a play so they don't get a first down," Smith said. "I blink, the ball's in my hands and I'm running."

Teammate Chris Frey was delighted by Smith's big day back.

"Tyson plays a huge role on our defense and he has in the past," Frey said. "He went through a really tough time and he stuck with it. He could have very easily taken that injury and said 'I just want to focus on school and get my degree.' He loves this game and just like every one of us does."

The support from his teammates only added to the excitement, Smith said.

"It meant everything in the world. Like I said those guys were behind me when I was out. Just to see after that play that it still meant a lot, it was an amazing feeling. It was exciting."

Backfield plan stays

Two fumbles from junior L.J. Scott won't deter Mark Dantonio from keeping him in the rotation. He's planning to play Scott, fifth-year senior Gerald Holmes and junior Madre London throughout the season.

Plan on it.

"I think all three of those guys are Big Ten running backs and all three have had a lot of success," Dantonio said. "I still think L.J.'s an outstanding running back and we're going to give him the ball. So, I don't think there's any separation. I wouldn't look for any separation throughout the whole season because I think all three of those guys can carry the load at one point in time."

London led the backs with 54 yards and a touchdown while Holmes ran for 40 yards and Scott grabbed 39. Quarterback Brian Lewerke led the team's rushing effort with 69 yards.

Standing tall

Michigan State's defense held Bowling Green to just 67 yards of rushing.

The inside five battered Falcon running backs that dared cross the line of scrimmage and held them to an average of just 2.8 yards a carry.

"One of our goals every week is to keep them under 100 yards and I think we did a really good job of that today and we're going to continue to improve," Frey said.

Frey finished the day with four solo tackles for a total of 10.

Fellow linebacker Joe Bachie, a sophomore, also finished with four solo tackles and 10 total.

"Our young guys are going to step up and continue to learn, that's including me, that's including Chris," Bachie said. "Upper guys gotta learn too."

That duo will be tested next week against Western Michigan, which returns all of its starting running backs.

Mentally strong

The Spartan defense was tested quickly in the first quarter after the Scott fumble on the Bowling Green 3.

The Falcons rushed once for no gain and then quarterback James Morgan threw a bomb down the field to Datrin Guyton for a 45-yard gain.

In the past, Frey said, that may have challenged the mental game of his defense.

No longer.

"We've really been working on that from last year," Frey said. "In games where we would give up a long pass or a long run, we struggled to get our momentum back, so this offseason we really focused on, if there's a really big play, we're going to rebound and we're going to stop them."

It's exactly what the Spartans did as they gave up a total of five yards on the next two rushing plays then forced an incomplete pass.

"That's something we did really well with in fall camp and we continued to do that today. Early in the game in the first series and they had that deep ball, when you're running down the field you've just got to say 'let's go, it's time to focus in.'

Frey said gaining experience and confidence in themselves helps fortify that resolve.

"We're just going to get that mindset in our heads that one big play doesn't ruin a drive," he said. "We can come back and stop them and that's what we did and they got a field goal out of it."

Cory Olsen is a freelance writer