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Smoker's play key in Spartans win

October 20, 2003

Minneapolis - Last season, quarterback Jeff Smoker lost the confidence of everyone in Spartan Nation. But this season, Smoker has the Spartans following his every move to a height that MSU has not reached in nearly four decades.

With precision-passing and four consecutive games without an interception, the Spartans' playcaller has excited the attention of the nation and entered the Heisman Trophy race, even garnering a feature story on ESPN during their GameDay telecast from Madison, Wis.

The senior passed for 252 yards on 30-of-46 passing, while leading his team to a 44-38 win over Minnesota on Saturday.

Smoker has not only improved his passing and leadership but also has become a running threat near the goal line, rushing for a touchdown in each of the past three games, including a 6-yard second quarter touchdown run.

He has refused to force the ball to any area since the first game against Western Michigan, instead choosing short options, throwing the ball away or even taking a sack instead of turning the ball over. The Spartans have now gone 18 quarters without a turnover.

"Don't jinx us," head coach John L. Smith said.

The Spartans recovered three fumbles against the Gophers and won the battle 3-to-0.

Smoker once again spread the ball around, passing to eight different targets, with his favorite Jaren Hayes catching eight passes for 38 yards.

With representatives from the Capital One, Outback, Sun and Alamo bowls looking on, Smoker impressed again, as MSU guaranteed they would have a winning record for the season.

"The biggest thing for us is to send our seniors out the door winners," Smith said. "We have fulfilled that commitment. The next one's a bowl game. The third one's a championship."

Smoker has led the Spartans back to national recognition, with the team now ranked No. 11 and every week counting towards the team's bowl hopes.

"Every week's a championship week now, from here on out," Smoker said. "So now I'm looking forward to two weeks from now."

In two weeks, the Spartans will face Michigan, who Smoker has only defeated once in his career. The win was the 26-24 last-second victory at home in 2001.

The Spartans will just have to hope that Smoker remains healthy for the team to succeed, because their only loss of the season came with the quarterback on the sidelines for the second half against Louisiana Tech. And with Michigan, Ohio State and Wisconsin coming up on the schedule, his suiting up will likely be necessary for the team to have success.

"I got banged up pretty good, but in the Big Ten, that's what you're going to get," Smoker said. "And that turf doubles it. I've got bumps and scrapes everywhere, so the bye week couldn't come at a better time."

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