Sunday, April 21, 2024

Leaders lull

Quarterbacks play leaves many questions

October 14, 2002
Iowa defensive back Derek Pagel looks back to make sure MSU outside tackle Steve Stewart can’t catch up to him after intercepting a pass from MSU quarterback Jeff Smoker. Pagel ran for 62 yards during the MSU vs. Iowa football game in Iowa City, Iowa on Saturday. —

Iowa City, Iowa - Saturday’s 44-16 beating at the hands of Iowa provided more than just embarrassment for the Spartans (3-3 overall, 1-1 Big Ten), it also opened the door for a possible quarterback controversy.

The door was unlocked roughly three minutes into the third quarter when MSU head coach Bobby Williams sent sophomore quarterback Damon Dowdell into the game.

On the Spartans’ previous possession, junior quarterback Jeff Smoker fumbled after a 3-yard scramble. It was the signal caller’s third turnover of the afternoon.

Four plays later, the Hawkeyes (6-1, 3-0) converted the turnover into seven points. At that point Iowa led 34-7.

“We had to settle down Jeff. He had just turned over the ball again, and he was really rattled,” Williams said. “It’s tough to go into a football game at that point expecting to really take the team and lead it back. But we felt we had to give (Dowdell) an opportunity.”

Perhaps the only good news to come out of Saturday’s game was the fact that Dowdell struggled as well. Otherwise, Williams would have a full-fledged quarterback controversy on his hands.

The 6-foot-1, 211-pounder commanded the next three drives for MSU. But in doing so, he fumbled the ball away on his first drive and threw an interception on the third. Dowdell finished the game 5-of-13 for 25 yards.

“I wanted to step up and try to lead my team to a comeback,” he said. “It was hard, I give credit to Iowa’s defense. They were pretty tough.”

That defense, which held MSU to 194 passing yards, entered the game ranked 116th out of 117 Division I schools in pass defense (338.6 yards per game).

Smoker was again handed the reins, with MSU trailing 37-7. But just into the fourth quarter, he limped off the field after rolling his ankle.

Williams again granted Dowdell an opportunity. Dowdell failed to complete his four attempts and turned the ball over on downs. Smoker returned on the next drive and threw a 20-yard touchdown pass to sophomore wide receiver BJ Lovett.

Smoker didn’t grant post-game interviews as he sought treatment for his ankle. But through a released statement, he said although he wasn’t pleased with the benching, he understood the move. Smoker finished the game 17-of-33 for 169 yards and one touchdown, while throwing two interceptions.

“We didn’t execute the way we should have,” he said. “I threw some bad balls, we had some fumbles, and you can’t beat a top-20 team on the road with five turnovers.”

Williams said the biggest difference in Smoker this season from last is his confidence level. But Williams made it clear that as of now, there’s no quarterback controversy.

“Jeff is still our starting quarterback,” Williams said. “But Damon is going to be a guy where if we have to put him in there, we will.”

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