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PSU's Johnson joins the club

He is one of nine to get 2,000 yards in a season as Penn State beats Michigan State 61-7.

©Associated Press
November 24, 2002

STATE COLLEGE, Pa. -- If Michigan State receiver Charles Rogers had a Heisman Trophy vote, his choice would be easy: Penn State running back Larry Johnson.

Rogers himself was a strong candidate for the sport's top individual honor, but he and the rest of the Spartans got a good look at Saturday why Johnson merits consideration.

Johnson completed his sensational late-season surge by becoming the ninth player in Division I-A to rush for at least 2,000 yards when he racked up 279 and four touchdowns in the first half of Penn State's 61-7 victory Saturday.

"He's got my vote for the Heisman," Rogers said. "I saw firsthand what he could do."

Johnson scored on runs of 11, 78, 11 and 38 yards, and his last run gave the Nittany Lions a 48-0 lead with 2:38 left in the first half. Penn State got the ball back with a minute left, and Johnson ran onto the field with the rest of the offense before he was called back.

Mercifully for the Spartans, Johnson's day, and his remarkable regular season, were over.

"I had a great season and a great run. This is the ultimate way to cap off this season," Johnson said. "I didn't think I could be a 1,000-yard back. This was a long season, and I got frustrated at times, but I really kept pushing and kept through all the hard times, and I had success with it."

Johnson finished with 2,015 yards, becoming the first Penn State player to top 2,000. He set an NCAA record by averaging 8.02 yards a carry, eclipsing the 7.8 by Nebraska's Mike Rozier in 1983.

The Nittany Lions are headed for their first bowl game since the 1999 season. Ohio State's victory over Michigan earlier Saturday virtually guaranteed Penn State a spot in the Capital One Bowl in Orlando (formerly the Citrus Bowl).

Michigan State ended a season plagued by problems. The Spartans were ranked as high as No. 15 but collapsed. Quarterback Jeff Smoker entered a substance-abuse program, and coach Bobby Williams was fired three weeks ago. This time the Spartans allowed their most points since 1922, when they lost 63-0 to Michigan.

Johnson also had 10 yards receiving, giving him 341 for the season and breaking the Penn State season record for yards receiving by a running back.

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