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Media / bowl history
Date: Monday, December 29, 2003
What many anticipated to be an offensive clinic between the nation's ninth ranked rushing attack and the Big Ten's top passing offense turned out to be a one-sided affair in the 2003 MasterCard Alamo Bowl. The 21st-ranked Nebraska Cornhuskers shut down the Michigan State Spartans' high-powered passing attack and used two short second-quarter touchdown runs by Cory Ross to defeat the Spartans 17-3.
Ross rushed for a career-high 138 yards on an Alamo Bowl record 37 carries for Nebraska (10-3), which was playing in its NCAA-record 35th consecutive bowl game. As a team Nebraska tallied 229 rushing yards and outran the Spartans by a 12:1 ratio.
Husker quarterback Jammal Lord rushed for 79 yards on 10 attempts for the Cornhuskers, including a career-long 66-yard scamper that set up Ross' second score. But it was Lord's arm that surprised his critics as the senior signal caller threw for a career-best 180 yards.
Lord's performance overshadowed that of Big Ten Comeback Player of the Year and Spartan quarterback Jeff Smoker and was enough to earn Lord recognition as the MasterCard Alamo Bowl Offensive MVP. Smoker, arguably the best signal caller ever to play for Michigan State, completed 21-of-39 passes for 156 yards. His final pass as a Spartan was intercepted by cornerback Fabian Washington with 1:08 remaining.
The victory was the first as a head coach for Nebraska Defensive Coordinator Bo Pelini, who took the helm on an interim basis after Frank Solich was fired a month earlier. A furious Pelini gave Michigan State (8-5) an opening when he was flagged for an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty with the Spartans facing 4th-and-inches in the fourth quarter. The penalty gave Michigan State a first down at the Nebraska 34 with less than eight minutes remaining. But two plays later, cornerback Pat Ricketts sealed the victory with the Huskers' school-record 31st interception, tops in Division I-A.
After trading field goals in the first quarter, Ross scored on runs of two and six yards, giving Nebraska a 17-3 halftime lead. The Blackshirts did not disappoint the Husker faithful, holding Smoker in check while recording three interceptions and five sacks and limiting Michigan State to 18 rushing yards and 174 total, more than 200 below its average. The Huskers limited the Spartan ground game to less than one yard-per-carry as MSU could muster only 18 yards on 23 carries.
The 2003 MasterCard Alamo Bowl was the only game in which there was no score in the second half as the Blackshirt defense of the Nebraska Cornhuskers stifled the Big Ten comeback player of the year, Jeff Smoker. The 2003 game earned a television rating of 4.2 on ESPN, translating to 6.1 million viewers. The game ranks as the No. 12 all-time most-watched bowl game on ESPN.