Dec 30, 2003
By T.A. BADGER
Associated Press Writer
SAN ANTONIO - Nine wins wasn't enough for Frank Solich at Nebraska. Could one be enough for Bo Pelini?
Pelini, auditioning to replace Solich as head coach, mixed more passing into the Cornhuskers' run-oriented offense Monday night and got a good result, as Nebraska defeated Michigan State 17-3 in the Alamo Bowl.
"I was asked to do a job and I did it," said Pelini, who moved up from defensive coordinator to interim coach after Solich was fired Nov. 29. "I'm not worried about (whether he's named coach). It's out of my control."
Jammal Lord threw for a career-best 160 yards and ran for 79 more for the Cornhuskers (10-3), and running back Cory Ross also had a career night by rushing for 138 yards and two touchdowns.
Lord said much of the credit for the team's 10th win was due to the man who led them to the first nine.
"Coach Solich was just on us all season to finish things. Finish big," he said. "Everything was for him. This trophy was for him."
The win was the Cornhuskers' second in the Alamo Bowl in four years. They rolled over Northwestern 66-17 in 2000.
While Nebraska's offense piled up 389 total yards, its defense limited the Spartans' potent passing attack to 156 yards to go with 18 yards on the ground.
Quarterback Jeff Smoker was sacked five times, twice on Michigan State's first possession, and he threw three interceptions.
"They had some good speed rushes and a good (defensive) line," Smoker said. "And a lot of it at times was good coverage, too. ... Everywhere I was trying to throw the ball there was somebody there (for Nebraska)."
Michigan State coach John L. Smith said the Spartans (8-5) struggled to find a rhythm.
"We had trouble protecting, we lacked the consistency offensively," he said. "As I look back, maybe we could have run more."
Pelini's only obvious misstep of the night came in the fourth quarter, when he was hit with an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty for arguing too strenuously that Michigan State had fumbled the ball in Cornhuskers territory.
"I was a little frustrated and felt like we couldn't get a call," he said.
Nebraska got the turnover four plays later when Pat Ricketts intercepted a pass from Smoker intended for Aaron Alexander at the Cornhuskers 32 with 5:24 remaining.
The penalty didn't dull the enthusiasm for Pelini among some Nebraska fans, who chanted "We want Bo!" over and over after the game.
Pelini and quarterbacks coach Turner Gill are the only known candidates for the head coaching job.
Lord started throwing in the second quarter, completing seven passes for 140 yards. He hit wide receiver Isaiah Fluellen with a 58-yard strike to the Michigan State 6, and Ross ran it in two plays later for his first touchdown.
Lord's previous best passing day was 151 yards in a win over Division 1-AA McNeese State in October 2002.
Late in the first half, Lord faked a handoff inside at his own 20 and took off around the right end. He outraced the linebackers and then the secondary for a 66-yard gain to the Michigan State 14. Ross then carried it in from the 7 to give Nebraska a 17-3 halftime lead.
Michigan State made no secret it would be throwing the ball, though the Spartans might have had second thoughts after their first series.
Defensive end Trevor Johnson dropped Smoker for an 8-yard loss on the first play from scrimmage, and then Johnson sacked him again on third down for another 8-yard loss.
Starting at their own 42, the Huskers did what they were expected to do - methodically pound the ball on the ground. Ross carried seven times for 37 yards on the drive, which ended with a 29-yard field goal by David Dyches.
Smoker had better success in the Spartans' second possession, completing five of his six passes to get Dave Rayner into position for a 46-yard field goal to tie the game with 3:53 left in the first quarter.