The Spartans were humbled by a Nebraska Cornhusker team that was bigger, stronger, faster and more talented at almost every position. The Cornhuskers whipped the Spartans on both sides of the line of scrimmage leading directly to a one-sided 17-3 win in the Mastercard Alamo Bowl last night.
The evening was disappointing in every way. Less than 6,000 Spartans fans traveled to Texas to support their team after MSU officials had promised the bowl committee that they would sell their full allotment of 10,000 tickets. The Spartans faithful then suffered through Jeff Smoker's worst showing of the season, a 21-of-39 for 157 yards and three interception performance. Smoker was constantly harassed by Nebraska's Trevor Johnson and linebacker Demorrio Williams who each had two of the five sacks of the Michigan State quarterback.
Adding injury to insult watching the heir-apparent redshirt freshman Drew Stanton suffer a strained ACL injury on the punt coverage team that will require surgery this off-season.
Not only could the Spartans not handle the Cornhuskers offensive line that repeatedly blew holes in the Michigan State front seven, the MSU players helped Nebraska by losing their composure and committing personal foul penalties.
While it was expected that Nebraska would run the ball --which they did, rushing for 229 yards on 51 carries to MSU's 18 yards on 23 carries -- no one expected the Cornhuskers would outpass the Spartans. Nebraska's Jamaal Lord, who confounded the Spartans with his elusive scrambling out of the pocket (10 carries for 79 yards), threw for more yardage than Smoker, going 8-of-17 for 160 yards without an interception.
The two teams, who had nearly gone to blows initiated by the Spartans at some pre-bowl game functions, felt each other out early exchanging field goals. But it didn't take long for Nebraska's offensive line to establish the line of scrimmage and then dominate it late. Nebraska was determined to show the talkative Spartans what happens when a team calls them out.
"I don't think we called them out," said wide receiver Kyle Brown, "it was just that both teams haven't played in such a long time. They saw us and we saw them and we're football players. It brought out the competitiveness in us." Still, Lord took advantage of the pourous MSU secondary, hitting Isaiah Fluellen on a 58-yard bomb to get inside the MSU 10-yard line. Sophomore Cory Ross scored from 2 yards out to give the Cornhuskers a 10-3 lead.
When Nebraska got the ball back with 4:09 remaining in the half, the Cornhuskers front five freed Lord for a 66-yard romp down the right sideline to set them up in MSU territory again. Two plays later, Ross scored his second touchdown of the game to give Nebraska a 17-3 halftime lead that their defense made stand up.
Nebraska shut the mouths of the talkative Spartans by beating them up all over the field. At the half, a fiery John L. Smith told his team to "stop talking and start playing". He challenged the Spartans to back up their talk with action.
Nebraska quarterback Jamaal Lord said the Spartans wrote a check with their mouths that they couldn't cash. "We had our back against the wall. This whole week has been crazy. The Michigan State team disrespected us on Friday night. We knew the game would be a physical game. Everything had to come into effect our running game, our tackling game, our rush on defense and it showed," said Lord.
"They were talking the whole game. They didn't play football, they were just talking."
When they realized they couldn't back up their big talk, they resorted to the undisciplined play of earlier in the season as they were flagged for several personal foul and unsportsmanlike conduct penalties including one inside the Nebraska 20-yard line.
Smoker had just hit Aaron Alexander at the Nebraska 17-yard line to give MSU a chance top put points on the board, but instead the Spartans were flagged for a late hit, moving the ball back to the Nebraska 32-yard line where Smoker was intercepted for the third time.
Quarterback Jeff Smoker tried to explain away the four personal foul calls on the Spartan players. "The person that gets caught is always the second person. Obviously if we're getting called for something someone is doing something. I know that my teammate don't intentionally personal foul someone without them doing something first. I saw a couple on the replay screen and it wasn't initiated by our guys."
John L. Smith's first season at Michigan State was a success going 8-5 overall with a team many thought would struggle to win five games, but he lamented the way MSU played in this one. "Any time you go out with a loss it's a bad deal. We would have liked to see him have more consistency and you would have liked to see us protect him better and you have liked to see us catch some of those balls. We were an inch away on some of the big plays that could have made this a great night for us. Jeff has done a lot for us this year. Without him it would have been a long year. He gave us an opportunity to win."
Now Smith has a reclamation job before next season's rebuilding year. Hopefully he can instill in future Spartans team more discipline and put a halt to the all the strutting and taunting that Michigan State is becoming known for.
First, he has to clean up a mess that started in San Antonio and stinks all the way to East Lansing.