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Johnson Reaches 2,000 Peak

November 24, 2002|From Associated Press

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

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

Johnson completed his sensational late-season surge by becoming the ninth player in NCAA Division I-A history to rush for at least 2,000 yards Saturday when he racked up 279 and four touchdowns in the first half of No. 15 Penn State's 61-7 victory Saturday at State College, Pa.

"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, 9-3 overall and 5-3 in the conference, 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 -- was over.

"I had a great season and a great run. This is the ultimate way to cap off this season," said Johnson, a senior who started the season with only 866 career rushing yards. "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."

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

"If you'd have said to me he's going to have 2,000 yards in one year, I'd have said, 'Aw, come on,' " Penn State Coach Joe Paterno said. "He finally got that feel for things, and he's spectacular. He's like a man playing against boys out there."

Michigan State (4-8, 2-6) gave up its most points since a 63-0 loss to Michigan in 1922.

Wisconsin 49, Minnesota 31 -- Anthony Davis rushed for a career-high 301 yards and five touchdowns in 45 carries as the Badgers (7-6, 2-6) won back Paul Bunyan's Axe with a victory over the Gophers (7-5, 3-5) at Madison, Wis. Davis' five touchdowns tied the school record set by Billy Marek against Minnesota in 1974.

The Badgers not only got the trophy that goes to the winner of the longest-running rivalry in major college football, they became bowl-eligible for the first time since 2000.

Purdue 34, Indiana 10 -- Brandon Jones rushed for 131 yards and two touchdowns as the Boilermakers (6-6, 4-4) became bowl-eligible for a sixth straight season and regained the Old Oaken Bucket in a victory over the Hoosiers (3-9, 1-7) at West Lafayette, Ind. Quarterback Kyle Orton came off the bench to complete 22 of 28 passes for 173 yards in leading Purdue on five scoring drives.

Illinois 31, Northwestern 24 -- Jon Beutjer threw three touchdown passes and ran for another to lead the Fighting Illini (5-7, 4-4) to a victory over the Wildcats (3-9, 1-7) at Evanston, Ill. Antoineo Harris rushed for 178 yards and broke Illinois' single-season rushing record, surpassing the 1,281 yards set by Illini career rushing leader Robert Holcombe.

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