Big Ten Notebook: Smoker joins MSU record book

Published 12:00 am Friday, October 10, 2003

Maybe they should put an asterisk in the Michigan State record book.

Quarterback Jeff Smoker was 32-for-40 for 351 yards and three scores in a 31-3 win over Indiana on Saturday, tying John Leister's school record for completions in a game.

While leaving the field, Smoker picked up a flying disc and flung it for a 33rd completion - to Michigan State canine entertainer Zeke the Wonderdog.

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''I've never had a day like that,'' Smoker said of his 80-percent accuracy. ''I couldn't even do that on a video game.''

Smoker isn't a huge video-game fan. But he has played as himself a few times. And he said the computerized version of No. 9 isn't as good as the real-life performer, the Big Ten's co-offensive player of the week.

After being suspended for the final five games in 2002 with substance-abuse problems, Smoker has been one of the best stories in the country this season for the 5-1 Spartans. And his last completion was one of his favorites.

''That was pretty neat,'' Smoker said of his toss to Zeke, the 10th receiver he hooked up with on the day. ''He dropped the two I threw him last week. So it was time he stepped up and made a play. I think that was a touchdown, too. He was in the end zone.''

STAT OF THE WEEK: Maybe the road to the Big Ten title does NOT go through Columbus, Ohio.

Over the last eight years, five teams that did not play Ohio State in the Big Ten's rotating schedule went on to win at least a share of the league championship.

Northwestern (1995, 1996, 2000), Wisconsin (1998) and Iowa (2002) got at least a piece of the Big Ten title without having to meet the Buckeyes.

''I think it would be safe to say that anybody who doesn't have to play the Buckeyes goes, 'Whew! That was pretty good!''' Northwestern coach Randy Walker said.

This season, Illinois and Minnesota don't play Ohio State. The 17th-ranked Golden Gophers (6-0, 2-0 Big Ten) host No. 20 Michigan (4-2, 1-1) on Friday night at the Metrodome.

Told of the history of teams with a ''Buckeyes Bye,'' Minnesota coach Glen Mason said, ''Hopefully, we'll keep the string going.''

BLUE BLUES: The folks in Ann Arbor are not happy.

They hoped Michigan would end the season in the Sugar Bowl, or the Rose Bowl, but after the Wolverines lost at Iowa, two weeks after losing at Oregon, and onslaught of criticism was directed toward the coaching staff and the players.

''Obviously, there's going to be a backlash when you lose and there's going to be doubters,'' defensive tackle Grant Bowman said. ''There's always people second-guessing what you do. But that's what comes along with being at Michigan and we accept that. Bottom line, we haven't gotten the job done.''

The Wolverines have dropped 17 spots in the polls in the last three weeks.

RUNNING WILD: Kyle Orton didn't come to Purdue known as Mr. Mobility.

But after last weekend's game, Orton may force his teammates and coaches to rethink that.

Orton was not hesitant to take off when receivers were covered against Illinois, and the result was seven carries for a career-high 49 yards and five first downs.

''There's some laughter in the huddle after I run the ball,'' he said. ''But I'm doing a little better. The big thing is when I run for a first down. I need to do it in key situations to give us a chance at a first down.''

HEALING HAWKEYES: A week without a game couldn't come at a better time for Iowa.

The No. 14 Hawkeyes (5-1, 1-1) need all the time they can get to heal and prepare for Ohio State on Oct. 18.

Starting cornerback Jovan Johnson was added to a long list of wounded when he twisted an ankle against Michigan on Saturday. His backup, Ma'Quan Dawkins, was lost for the season with a torn knee ligament later in the game.

The injured list also includes top receivers Maurice Brown and Ed Hinkel, starting left guard David Walker and running back Jermelle Lewis, who tore up a knee in spring drills.

The Hawkeyes didn't have a single major injury to a starter during last year's co-championship.

''We would have had a hard time fielding a competitive team this week,'' coach Kirk Ferentz said.

NO OVERCOACHING: Michigan State coach John L. Smith says one of the dangers for anyone is to try to do too much, with a possibility of a coach outsmarting himself.

''You can have paralysis by analysis,'' Smith said. ''There have been some times we've had to take a step back. We've tried to do too much. It all looks great. We have all these great ideas. And we can do it on the board. But those kids have to do it on the field. As coaches, sometimes we lose sight of that.''

QUICK-HITTERS: No Purdue senior class has graduated with wins over every other Big Ten team since 1981. Should the Boilermakers beat Penn State on Saturday, the seniors would end that streak. … Michigan may lean on freshman Jerome Jackson for some tips on how to slow down his brother, Minnesota running back Terry Jackson. ''Maybe we can get some espionage going,'' defensive tackle Grant Bowman said. … Minnesota's Marion Barber III has tied the school mark with 13 rushing touchdowns this year. … Longest Big Ten title drought? Indiana and Minnesota haven't collected a trophy since sharing first place in 1967. … Ohio State has not won an outright conference title since 1984.