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Spartans ride defense to Rose Bowl win

Michigan State defeats Stanford 24-20

Posted: January 1, 2014 7:34 p.m.
Updated: January 1, 2014 7:34 p.m.
Michigan St. defenders celebrate after clinching the Rose Bowl with a fourth down stop of the Cardinal on Wednesday in Pasadena. Michigan St. defenders celebrate after clinching the Rose Bowl with a fourth down stop of the Cardinal on Wednesday in Pasadena.
Michigan St. defenders celebrate after clinching the Rose Bowl with a fourth down stop of the Cardinal on Wednesday in Pasadena.

PASADENA – At this point, Stanford has taken a residency in the Bowl Championship Series with four straight trips and a Rose Bowl Game victory in 2013. By comparison, Michigan State had never been to a BCS game until this year’s 100th Rose Bowl Game.

And Spartans head coach Mark Dantonio said his team, more specifically the nation’s top-ranked defense, looked like tourists in comparison to Stanford in the first half Wednesday.

That top-ranked defense found its comfort level in the second half, and a fourth-and-1 stop with 1:46 to play led to Michigan State’s 24-20 win over Pac-12 champion Stanford.

“We didn’t have the flash, emotions that we usually had,” Dantonio said of his team’s first-half. “But like we always have, we recollected ourselves. We’re a very resilient football team.”

The Big Ten champions went three-and-out late in the fourth quarter after No. 4 Stanford cut No. 5 Michigan State’s lead to 24-20 on a 39-yard field goal by Jordan Williamson.

Stanford’s final possession started on its own 29-yard line with 3:06 to play in the game.

Three short gains later, Stanford (11-3) faced a fourth-and-1 on its own 34-yard line.

With two fullbacks and running back Tyler Gaffney in the backfield, Cardinal quarterback Kevin Hogan handed to fullback Ryan Hewitt. From the other side, Michigan State linebacker Kyler Elsworth flew over his own defensive line with both arms spread and crashed into Hewitt, stopping him for no gain and ending Stanford’s bid for a victory.

“We went into the locker room with a chip on our shoulder at halftime,” Elsworth said. “Coach said we’re the No. 1 defense in the nation. We need to play like the No. 1 defense in the nation.”

Elsworth might not have even been in the game had All-Big Ten linebacker Max Bullough not been suspended for the Rose Bowl Game for an undisclosed violation of team rules.

Without him, Michigan State’s defense was still as advertised.

However, Stanford managed to move the ball early, mostly due to running back Tyler Gaffney.

On Stanford’s first drive, Gaffney spun off a tackle and scored a touchdown on a 16-yard run to give the Cardinal a 7-0 lead with 11:16 to play in the first quarter.

Another big play set up Stanford’s next score as Gaffney broke free down the right sideline for 47 yards before he was caught.

Michigan State (13-1) had its chance to stop the drive when Hogan fumbled on a run at the Spartans’ 35. Two Spartans ran over the loose ball and Stanford recovered, leading to a Williamson 34-yard field goal to put the Cardinal up 10-0 with 1:40 left in the first frame.

Michigan State answered on the next drive, taking advantage of three Stanford letdowns – all on third downs.

Cardinal linebacker Kevin Anderson had an interception slip through his hands on third-and-11 and tipped the ball to receiver Macgarrett Kings for a 14-yard gain.

On a third-and-5, Michigan State quarterback Connor Cook had plenty of time and completed a 19-yard pass to Trevon Pendleton to the Stanford 14.

Stanford later committed a pass interference on third-and-goal.

That set up a 2-yard touchdown run by Jeremy Langford to cut the Cardinal lead to 10-7 with 10:45 to play in the second quarter.

Stanford’s reply came from Anderson, who made good on a second opportunity. Cook, under duress, lobbed the ball to Anderson, who returned it 40 yards for a touchdown with 2:07 to play in the first half for a 17-7 Cardinal lead.

Dantonio called what happened next one of two key components to Michigan State’s win.

Cook drove the Spartans 75 yards in 1:39 and found Pendleton in the end zone for a 2-yard touchdown, cutting Stanford’s lead to 17-14 with 28 seconds to play before halftime.

Cook passed for a career high 332 yards in the game on 22-of-36 passing.

By halftime, Stanford amassed 102 rushing yards. Gaffney had 79 yards on 11 carries.

By the end of the game, the Cardinal had 162 rushing yards and Gaffney was at 91 yards on 24 carries. 

“We took advantage of them leaving gaps, small gaps where they would normally stray away from their gap (in the first half),” Gaffney said. “In the second half, they made some good adjustments. Everywhere I looked, there was a green defender.”

Hogan, who finished 10-of-18 with 143 yards and an interception in the third quarter, never seemed to find a rhythm in the second half and Stanford.

On the other side, Cook’s late first-half success continued into the third quarter when he found receiver Bennie Fowler for a 60-yard gain on the opening drive.

That set up a 31-yard field goal by Michael Geiger that tied the score at 17-17.

Michigan State had the opportunity to take the lead late in the third quarter and drove the football inside the Stanford red zone, but Cardinal linebacker Shayne Skov knocked the ball out of Langford’s hands, and Stanford’s Josh Mauro recovered the fumble at the Cardinal 8-yard line.

Gaffney was shut down on three straight runs, leaving Stanford to punt inside its own 10-yard line.

That put Michigan State in prime field position after Kings returned the punt to the Stanford 27-yard line.

Cook connected with receiver Tony Lippett on a 25-yard touchdown, finally giving the Spartans the lead at 24-17 with 13:22 left to play.

Stanford’s only second-half score came on its late field goal in the fourth quarter.

In terms of history, Stanford lost the first Rose Bowl Game to Michigan 49-0 on Jan. 1, 1902.

In the 100th playing of the “Granddaddy of Them All,” it’s Michigan State that got the best of the Cardinal.


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