Smoker, Kimrey Unlikely Heroes
What was most amazing about the fourth-and-10, fourth-quarter, come-from-behind touchdown pass that Michigan State freshman Jeff Smoker threw to beat Notre Dame is that it wasn't even the best fourth-and-10, fourth-quarter, come-from-behind touchdown pass thrown last Saturday. That honor went to South Carolina junior walk-on Erik Kimrey, who hadn't appeared in a college game before this season. Kimrey's first name was even misspelled in the Gamecocks' 1999 media guide, which listed him as Eric. But Kimrey, who had called his own plays in the spread offense that his dad coached at Dutch Fork High in Irmo, S.C., moved up to second team last spring when South Carolina inserted some spread offense.
Kimrey was called into action on Saturday after starter Phil Petty sprained his right ankle with less than five minutes remaining and the Gamecocks trailing Mississippi State 19-13-Facing fourth-and-10 at the Bulldogs' 25, South Carolina coach Lou Holtz asked Kimrey, "What do you think, Erik?" Replied Kimrey, "The fade—let me throw the fade."
That's what offensive coordinator (and Lou's son) Skip Holtz had called from the press box. Kimrey floated a perfect pass down the left sideline that dropped into wideout Jermale Kelly's hands at the one. Kelly took it in for the touchdown to give the Gamecocks a 20-19 lead with 4:41 to go. South Carolina held on for a 23-19 win, improving to 4-0 and earning a spot in the Top 25, at No. 23, after finishing 0-11 last season.
"Every kid dreams about a situation like that," says Kimrey, who had thrown eight passes as a collegian before hurling his game-winner. "The bottom of the ninth, full count, bases loaded, a couple of runs down, and you need a big hit. That's all I've been thinking about my whole life."
Smoker, a freshman, has been Michigan State's quarterback since starter Ryan Van Dyke bruised his right thumb in the first quarter of the season opener. Against the Irish, Smoker turned the ball over inside the Spartans' 20 on consecutive fourth-quarter possessions, allowing Notre Dame to assume a 21-20 lead. Most freshmen would have been rattled by that, but not Smoker.
"We had a playoff game last year in which he threw an interception early and we fell behind 7-0," says Manheim (Pa.) Central High coach Mike Williams, whose team Smoker took to the AAA state semifinals in 1998 and '99. "He came off the field and said, 'My fault, Coach. But don't worry' We won, 42-28. With Jeff there were no highs and lows. I don't think I yelled at Jeff in three years. There was no need to."
With 1:48 to play and facing fourth-and-10 at the Spartans' 32, Smoker eluded a blitz long enough to throw a bullet to wideout Herb Haygood at midfield, and Haygood raced untouched for a 68-yard touchdown. The No. 18 Spartans won 27-21 to improve to 3-0. Once again, Smoker's coaches had no need to worry.
Young Wideout Humbled
The Panthers Learn a Lesson
It has taken Pittsburgh coach Walt Harris four years to teach his Panthers how to win. No sooner had he imparted that message than Pittsburgh, which was 3-0 going into its game against Rutgers last Saturday, got a lesson on how to handle its newfound success.