Smoker sparkles in 26-21 win over Western

It was a triumphant return to the football field for Spartan quarterback Jeff Smoker. Smoker completed 21-of-34 passes for 324 yards and three touchdowns to lead the Spartans to a closer than expected 26-21 win.

(EAST LANSING) - It was a triumphant return to the football field for Spartan quarterback Jeff Smoker. Smoker completed 21-of-34 passes for 324 yards and three touchdowns to lead the Spartans to a closer than expected 26-21 win.

"He did some really good things tonight," said Spartan head coach John L. Smith, "some great things - making a few checks and going to the right guy and coming down the back at times. There were a few things that he maybe should have gotten us out of, but he didn't and he will next time. He has been through a lot and it was great to see him. I don't know what the numbers were and nobody really cared, but I thought he performed pretty darn well for the first game."

The Spartans jumped out to an early 7-0 lead after Smoker hit Agim Shabaj on a wide receiver screen that Shabaj turned into a 50-yard touchdown. Western answered when Chad Munson hit Greg Jennings who eluded Spartan defenders and scored from 45-yards out.

MSU went back on top with hit Kyle Brown on a seam route and Brown took it the distance from 59-yards out to put the Spartans up 14-7 and the new spread offense was drawing raves from the capacity crowd who loved its big play capability.

"We can make so many big plays, but we have to make sure we remain consistent," said Shabaj. "Every big play we managed is because the whole team did it. It's an 11-man game."

After Western Michigan struck back on a 2-yard Phillip Reed plunge to tie the score, the defense did its part to shut down the Bronco offensive attack with middle linebacker Mike Labinjo and defensive end Matthias Askew leading the way.

Askew continued to harass Western quarterback Chad Munson all afternoon recording three sacks and countless pressures and hurries. "It felt pretty good," said Askew. "We have a new season, a new coach, everybody felt good coming in and getting off the ball...We made some adjustments on the sidelines, once we did that, Coach filled us in on some little stuff and we just turned it on."

If Askew provided the pressure, then Labinjo added the production. The Ontario native was all over the field stopping would-be Bronco playmakers. Askew recorded an outstanding ten tackles on the afternoon.

MSU added a 49-yard Dave Rayner field goal and Smoker connected with Shabaj on a 20-yard score to up the margin to 23-14 at the half. After opening the second half with a 31-yard Rayner field goal, the Bronco defense stiffened and didn't allow another Spartan score. Smoker said that MSU was more concerned with clock management that adding more points.

"We were trying to play a little bit more ball-control, which may actually not be our style. We were trying to control the ball and they started bringing more people down to stop the run. They made some adjustments at halftime and we made some, the defense played good and held them, I thought. That is one thing we have to work on, coming out in the second half and putting teams away. We can't leave anyone in the game like that."

With just 30 second remaining in the contest, Munson connected again with Jennings from 12-yards out to get the Broncos within five points, but that was as close as they would get.

MSU (1-0) next hosts the Scarlet Knights of Rutgers (1-0) who equaled their win total of a year ago by knocking of Buffalo 24-10. Game time is 3:40pm EST at Spartan Stadium in East Lansing.

Notable Quotables - Spartans bandit Monquiz Wedlow - "Personally, I thought their receivers were coming off a lot slower and we started hitting them a lot. I think some of the big hits we had broke a lot of them up and I guess they just stopped running on a lot of their routes. I think our defense did a real good job, their receivers were not running their routes as hard as I thought they should have because they thought they weren't going to get the ball because our defensive line did a great job today getting to the quarterback."

Spartans quarterback Jeff Smoker on pre-game jitters: "Honestly, I wasn't anymore tight than I would be on a normal game day. You always have the pre-game jitters, a lot of people thought I may be a little more nervous. To be honest with you, I really wasn't (nervous). I took it as any other game."

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