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Published December 30, 2003

MSU loses Alamo Bowl, 17-3

By Joe Rexrode
Lansing State Journal

SAN ANTONIO, Texas - Nebraska was faster, stronger and better than Michigan State in Monday's Alamo Bowl.

The Cornhuskers were also more composed, more intelligent, and their option quarterback, Jammal Lord, was somehow a sharper passer than MSU dropback star Jeff Smoker.

Add all that up, and it's a wonder MSU lost only 17-3 in front of 56,229 fans at the Alamodome.

Lord and running back Cory Ross wore out the Spartans' defense, and the Spartans' offense was suffocated like no other time this season - making for a disappointing end to Smoker's MSU career.

Ross finished the game with 138 yards rushing.

The loss wraps up a surprising 8-5 season under first-year coach John L. Smith.

That's just the sixth season of eight wins or more in the past 37, and it comes on the heels of last season's 4-8 finish.

For all its wondrous success, it ended bitterly. MSU needed a near-perfect game Monday, and it simply didn't happen.

The Spartans had a slew of personal fouls - on an evening filled with hostility between the players - and missed on a few rare downfield passing opportunities.

MSU still had a chance late, driving to Nebraska's 20 with six minutes to play. But a personal foul on receiver Aaron Alexander cost the Spartans 15 yards. Smoker threw a wobbly interception - his second of three on the night - on the next play, ending any hopes of a comeback.

Words were exchanged early and often, most notably between MSU defensive end Greg Taplin and the assortment of Huskers he pointed his finger at before kickoff. But Nebraska came out and gave the first shot, a sack of Smoker on the game's first play from scrimmage.

Defensive end Trevor Johnson burned MSU tackle Steve Stewart on the play and dropped Smoker for a loss of eight.

Two plays later, Johnson came up the middle and got Smoker again, this time for a loss of nine, and it looked like a long night might be in store for the Spartans' offensive line.

Third stringer Sean Poole started at left tackle in place of starter Stefon Wheeler and backup Gordon Niebylski, both of whom were injured.

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