Husker Look Back: Pelini gets first win as HC

Nebraska interim head coach Bo Pelini got his first win as a head coach when the #22 Cornhuskers beat the Michigan State Spartans 17-3 in the 2003 Alamo Bowl.

December 29th, 2003

San Antonio, Texas - Nebraska interim head coach Bo Pelini got his first win as a head coach when the #22 Cornhuskers beat the Michigan State Spartans 17-3 in the Alamo Bowl.

Pelini, who was the Husker defensive coordinator during the regular season, assumed the head coaching duties when Frank Solich was fired a month earlier.

NU rallied behind its new head coach, as Pelini got his team to play inspired football.

Behind a defense that harassed Michigan State's offense all night long and an offense that controlled the ball behind their patented rushing attack, Nebraska won their second Alamo Bowl and finished the season at 10-3.

The Blackshirt defense limited the Spartans to just 174 yards of total offense, forced three interceptions and tallied five sacks.

On offense, sophomore I-back Cory Ross, who carried the ball a school-record 37 times, rushed for 138 yards and two touchdowns to pace NU's ground game which finished with 229 yards.

The first quarter ended with the score tied at 3-3, as both defenses were playing well.

But that soon changed as Nebraska turned the tide with its first quarter interception, when safety Daniel Bullocks picked-off Spartan quarterback Jeff Smoker at the NU 36-yard line.

Husker quarterback Jammal Lord immediately went deep as he hooked up with wide receiver Isaiah Fluellen on a 58-yard pass play. Fluellen caught a career-high four passes for 84 yards in the game.

Two plays later, Ross ran it in from two yards out to give NU a 10-3 lead.

What proved to be the final score of the game, Lord guided the Husker offense 80 yards on just three plays, ending with Ross's 6-yard touchdown run to give Nebraska a 17-3 lead before halftime.

On the first play of that drive, Lord exploded for a career-long 66-yard run down to the Spartan 14-yard line. As the game offensive MVP, Lord would run for 79 yards on 10 carries and finished with 160 yards on 8 of 17 passing.

Directed by Pelini, the Husker defensive unit proved to be the star of the game. Pelini showed passion and intensity, and it wasn't conveyed more than when he was flagged for unsportsmanlike conduct arguing a call in the fourth quarter.

"Usually we have to hold back players when they get too fired up," NU cornerback Lornell McPherson said. "Tonight, we had to hold him (Pelini) back. When we saw that, it got us fired up."

Pelini's Blackshirt defense took fed off their head coach's intensity as they confused and attached Michigan State's offense all game long with their alignments and speed rush.

"I felt like if I wasn't running or getting sacked, I was getting hit right after I threw the ball," Smoker said. "They were coming, that's for sure."

Seniors Demorrio Williams and Trevor Johnson tallied two sacks each and the defense hurried the Spartan quarterback nine times.

Johnson who also got two quarterback hurries, was named the game defensive MVP.

By holding Michigan State to only three points, the Huskers equaled the lowest point total by a bowl opponent in 42 bowl games.

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