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Despite sacks, Smoker delivers huge victory

November 5, 2001
MSU sophomore quarterback Jeff Smoker is brought down by Michigan sophomore defensive lineman Norman Heuer during the first quarter of the game against U-M Saturday at Spartan Stadium. The Spartans defeated the Wolverines 26-24.

After getting sacked for the 12th time against Michigan Saturday, with less than two minutes left, sophomore quarterback Jeff Smoker had to think fast.

The Spartans were down by four, with no timeouts left and it was up to an ailing Smoker to lead his team 11 yards for the winning score.

When the clock wond down to the game’s final seconds, after a 1-yard run by Smoker, he was convinced that there was still a chance for an upset.

“I didn’t think it was over,” said Smoker, who then quickly spiked a snap from sophomore center Brian Ottney to freeze the clock with a second left. “I just got the guys to the line as quickly as possible and showed them I was spiking the ball. They did a good job of lining up and we got the snap off somehow.”

From that point on, Smoker said he was in a daze - and it wasn’t because of the constant beating he took against the Wolverines.

The 12 sacks - including a school record five from U-M defensive end Shantee Orr - were the most ever against an MSU team.

And as MSU’s final play developed, Smoker relied on the fans reaction to ensure a Spartan victory.

“I hardly remember,” said Smoker, of the 2-yard game-winning touchdown pass to running back T.J. Duckett. “I was rolling right and looked back and threw it up in the air. I got hit and waited for the crowds reaction, to tell you the truth, because I couldn’t see it and heard them go crazy.”

In a dramatic victory, one that saw MSU defeat its highest ranked opponent since 1999 when it defeated the then-No. 3 Wolverines, Smoker followed suit with a powerful reaction of his own.

“I looked up, saw everyone running on the field and just wanted to run and celebrate with my teammates,” Smoker said. “I ran into the pile and almost got suffocated. It was just a crazy range of emotions. I broke down for a minute, it was wild.”

Despite having a rough day against U-M’s defense, Smoker earned much praise from his teammates who commended his heroic efforts.

Smoker finished, completing 15-of-35 passes for 183 yards and two touchdowns and was subject to a variety of blitzes that forced him to throw quickly on the run.

“He’s strong and tough-minded,” said senior linebacker Josh Thornhill. “I always call him Buddy Lee because he’s like that guy in the commercials that gets cars dropped on him but ends up still standing. He really came through and set a great example for what this team is all about.”

Duckett said he was impressed with Smoker’s concentration amid the chaos of the game’s final moments, where players scattered around in the end zone to get open.

“Jeff learned a lot about concentration in this game,” Duckett said. “He really held things together, especially after he fumbled late in the fourth quarter. I think he definitely grew up a lot today. He left everything he had out there on the field.”

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