Five sacks, three INTs for Husker defense

SAN ANTONIO (AP) -- Bo Pelini is undefeated as Nebraska's interim

head coach. Whether that will be good enough to get the full-time

job remains to be seen.

Pelini, auditioning to replace Frank Solich, helped his cause

Monday night by leading the Cornhuskers (No. 21 ESPN/USA Today, No. 22 AP) to a 17-3 win over

Michigan State in the Alamo Bowl.

"I was asked to do a job and I did it," said Pelini, who moved

up from defensive coordinator after Solich was fired Nov. 29 with a

9-3 record. "I'm not worried about it. 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). 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 goes 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. "This trophy was for him."

Nebraska linebacker Benard Thomas, however, tipped his helmet to

Pelini when asked to rate the coach.

"Out of 10? A 12," said Thomas, flashing a wide grin.

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 amassed 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


Pelini's only obvious misstep 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


"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


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 I-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


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 -- they methodically pounded 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 it with 3:53 left in the first quarter.