Sunday, February 25, 2024

2 Spartans awarded for play

Taplin, Smoker named Big Ten players of week

Senior quarterback Jeff Smoker attempts a pass during Saturday's game against Indiana. Smoker threw for 32 completions. —

For the third straight week, an MSU player was named the Big Ten Defensive Player of the Week.

Spartans senior defensive end Greg Taplin recorded three sacks to lead the MSU defense in shutting down Indiana, 31-3.

Taplin moved into second place in the conference in sacks along with teammate and junior defensive tackle Matthias Askew with six for the season. He also recorded five tackles in the game.

The conference honors are Taplin's first.

On the other side of the ball, senior quarterback Jeff Smoker was named Big Ten co-Offensive Player of the Week with Minnesota receiver Jared Ellerson.

The quarterback threw for two touchdowns and rushed for another to lead the Spartans' offensive attack against the Hoosiers.

Smoker tied an MSU record for single-game completions (32) while throwing for 351 yards, the seventh time he topped the 300 mark in his career.

This was Smoker's second Big Ten Offensive Player of the Week honor. The last time he won it was his freshman year after he led the Spartans over an upset of Purdue.

Moving on up

MSU (5-1 overall, 2-0 Big Ten) moved up from the 25th to the 21st spot in The Associated Press writers' poll and makes its debut in the USA Today/ESPN coaches' poll at No. 23 after winning its third straight game.

Head coach John L. Smith said he wasn't going to give the team's new ranking any justification from their standpoint.

"We don't pay a lot of attention to all that," he said.

The Big Ten has seven teams, the most of any conference, ranked in The AP Top 25. The Spartans are ahead of No. 23 Wisconsin (5-1, 2-0), but behind No. 20 Michigan (4-2, 1-1), No. 18 Purdue (4-1, 1-0), No. 17 Minnesota (6-0, 2-0), No. 14 Iowa (5-1, 1-1) and No. 3 Ohio State (5-0, 1-0).

Also, The New York Times computer rankings list the Spartans as No. 8. Its system's emphasis is based on two factors: who won and against what quality of opponent. The Buckeyes rank No. 1 in the Times poll.

The Times poll is one of the computer factors used in the Bowl Championship Series rankings.

Long time no see

This weekend marks the first meeting between MSU and Illinois since the Spartans beat the Fighting Illini, 14-10, on Oct. 28, 2000. The Spartans are sitting on a six-game win streak dating back to 1995, their longest in the series.

A win in Champaign-Urbana would give MSU the longest win streak in the series and a winning record at Memorial Stadium. The series stands even in Champaign-Urbana, 9-9-1.

Illini head coach Ron Turner has never beaten MSU, going 0-4, while John L. Smith is 1-2 against Illinois.

The game will be broadcast nationally by ESPN2. Kickoff is set for 12:02 p.m.

Setting up for a strike

With one more win, the Spartans will lock up a bowl bid this season. MSU's last bowl game was a 44-35 win over Fresno State in the Silicon Valley Football Classic on Dec. 31, 2001. Smith said he is excited about the possibility of wrapping up a postseason appearance so soon.

"Oh yeah, that's good, we like that," Smith said.

He has coached in six straight bowl games, including last year's GMAC Bowl with his former team, Louisville.

Cowboy coach a Yankees fan

"I've always been a huge Yankee fan ever since we found out that we could be playing on a Friday night," Smith said.

Baseball's New York Yankees defeated the Minnesota Twins in the fourth game of their American League Division Series Sunday, 8-1, to win the series. With the Twins out of the playoffs, MSU and the Minnesota Golden Gophers will play their conference game in the Metrodome on the original date set - Oct. 18. The game will begin at 12:02 p.m. and will be broadcast by either ESPN or ESPN2.

"Now we play on Saturday, and it's over," Smith said. "But, gosh, we feel bad that the Twins lost, but we feel good for us because we get to play on Saturday."

Injury update

Smith said wide receiver Ziehl Kavanaght (knee), running back Tyrell Dortch (sprained ankle), mike linebacker Ronald Stanley (hamstring) and bandit Monquiz Wedlow (leg contusion) will all most likely play against Illinois this weekend. Defensive tackle Brandon McKinney isn't expected to play until the Michigan game on Nov. 1.

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