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Defense preparing for ‘questionable’ Smoker

Joe Hettler | Friday, September 19, 2003

Notre Dame’s defense has been planning all week to face Michigan State quarterback Jeff Smoker. But Saturday those plans could change.

Smoker, who leads the Big Ten in passing yards per game and total offense, is listed as questionable for the game this weekend with a toe injury. He injured the toe in the second quarter of Michigan State’s 20-19 loss to Louisiana Tech last weekend. Spartan coach John L. Smith has not ruled Smoker out of the Notre Dame game. If Smoker cannot go, redshirt Drew Stanton is likely to start. Stanton has not played a down at the collegiate level.

Irish defensive coordinator Kent Baer said he expects to see Smoker in the game Saturday, even with the toe injury.

“I’m really preparing for Smoker to play,” Baer said. “I think he’s a pretty tough kid. Turf toe is turf toe, and a lot of guys play on turf toe.”

Smoker, who was suspended for the final five games of the Spartans’ season in 2002 because of a substance abuse problem, was reinstated this year and has played exceptionally in Michigan State’s first three games.

Notre Dame’s players don’t know whether they will face Smoker or Dowdell come Saturday.

“We don’t really know anything [about the QB situation],” defensive lineman Darrell Campbell said. “We expect [Smoker] to be there. So we’re expecting to bring our A game, just like I hope they bring theirs.”

Campbell also said that any quarterback can have a big day if the defense doesn’t play well.

“Any quarterback can have a big day if you let them. So he can come out there and have a spectacular game regardless of if he’s Smoker or not,” Campbell said. “We just need to go out there and work on our keys and listen to the coaches.”

Smoker completed 21-32 passes for 351 yards and three touchdowns in Michigan State’s 44-28 opening game win over Rutgers. He followed that performance by completing 21-34 passes for 324 yards and three more touchdowns versus Central Michigan. He was 12-19 for 138 yards before leaving the game against Louisiana Tech.

Smoker’s numbers place him as one of the better quarterbacks Michigan State has had in quite a while. He is the career leader in total offense and passing yards and is in the top 10 in pass attempts, pass completions and passing percentage.

Whoever the quarterback, the Irish must make some adjustments from last week’s blowout 38-0 loss to Michigan. The unit struggled to pressure Wolverine quarterback John Navarre, couldn’t contain running back Chris Perry and were picked apart in the secondary.

This week Baer knows that if Notre Dame wants to have defensive success, the team must find ways to pressure Smoker or whoever else is at quarterback for the Spartans. The amount of pressure applied to the quarterback will depend on how the game plays out.

“It’s tough to get after [the quarterback] unless you pressure him all the time,” Baer said. “I don’t want to put that much pressure on the secondary all the time.

“I think it’s important in the secondary that we give a lot of disguise and different looks, but if you’re talking about pressure, I don’t think we’re going to change anything just because it’s a different guy. As the game goes on you look at a quarterback and judge how he’s playing. If you think he can handle pressure, we’ll see if not, we’ll do some other things.”