12:00 PM ET, November 22, 2003
Spartan Stadium (MI), East Lansing, MI
EAST LANSING, Mich. (AP) -- A sullen Joe Paterno hunched over the podium and sighed.
The season he has acknowledged to be his most difficult in 38 years as coach had come to a disappointing close with a 41-10 loss to Michigan State on Saturday.
"This is as bad a football game as we've played in a long time," he said. "I want to get out of here, get on a plane, go home and hug my wife."
It's been that kind of a year for JoePa, whose future is being heavily debated in Happy Valley.
Penn State (3-9, 1-7 Big Ten) lost nine games for the first time in school history and is only the fourth losing team in Paterno's career.
The loss will do nothing to dissuade those who have called for Paterno's departure. Some Penn State fans believe it's time for the 76-year-old coach to retire.
That, Paterno again said this week, is out of the question.
John L. Smith, Michigan State's first-year coach, said Paterno definitely should return.
"You're talking about an individual who has done more for kids than anyone in the country," Smith said. "He should be given the opportunity to do whatever he wants, because he's earned that.
"In the coaching profession, we all look up to that because he's done it the right way. He's educated his kids. He's a positive influence on his kids. And who cares how many games he wins."
Paterno said he would spend about two weeks thinking about what went wrong this season and then begin planning for next year.
"I'm glad this game is over," he said. "Nothing quite worked out the way we had hoped it would work. I thought we were getting close, but today was one of those games where nothing goes right."
Everything went right for Jeff Smoker, who threw for 357 yards and four touchdowns in his final game at Spartan Stadium.
Smoker, a Manheim, Pa., native who Paterno tried to recruit four years ago, picked apart the No. 2 pass defense in the nation.
He completed 29-of-50 passes with one interception, and became the first Michigan State quarterback to top 3,000 yards passing in a season.
The Spartans (8-4, 5-3) snapped a three-game losing streak and clinched a tie for fourth place in the Big Ten.
"I was having a blast. It was the last time I'll be out here with a uniform on," Smoker said. "And to win the way we did today, I'll never have more fun than this."
The Spartans, who won just four games in 2002, completed their turnaround under Smith, whose spread offense confused the Nittany Lions.
"When we started this thing off, everybody said that if we could win four, it would be an amazing year," Smith said. "I think we overachieved in every game, even though we didn't win them all."
Smoker's fourth scoring pass, a 5-yarder to Jason Randall in the back of the end zone, made it 35-3 with 13 minutes to go.
Michigan State went ahead 28-3 seven minutes earlier on a 17-yard TD pass from Smoker to Jerramy Scott.
The drive that resulted in the Scott TD was kept alive when backup quarterback Drew Stanton ran 29 yards on a fake punt on fourth-and-4 from the Spartans 43.
Robinson threw a 13-yard touchdown pass to Terrance Phillips with 11 seconds to go in the game.
"A season like this -- you can't forget this," Robinson said. "I'm exhausted -- physically, mentally and emotionally."
Robinson, who started at running back, carried 16 times for 54 yards, caught three passes for 36 yards and completed 5-of-8 for 69 yards and one interception.
He said he expects to compete for the starting quarterback job next season against Mills, who became the school's all-time leader in total offense. Mills now has 6,007 yards, passing Tony Sacca (6,000).
By halftime, Smoker had 267 yards passing and two TDs. No quarterback had thrown for 200 yards against Penn State this season before Saturday. The last to throw for 300 yards against the Nittany Lions was Smoker two years ago.
Smoker's second scoring pass, a 14-yard strike to Eric Knott with less than three minutes to go in the second quarter, made it 21-3.
Smoker's 80-yard touchdown pass to Kyle Brown gave the Spartans a 7-3 lead with three minutes remaining in the first quarter.
Brown made the catch only 5 yards from scrimmage on a comeback route, eluded cornerback Rich Gardner, ran through the arms of cornerback Anwar Phillips and raced down the sideline for Michigan State's longest play from scrimmage this season.