Video: Stanford falls to Michigan State 24-20 in defense-heavy Rose Bowl
PASADENA – No. 4 Michigan State broke a tied game with No. 5 Stanford with 13:22 remaining in the fourth quarter on a 25-yard touchdown pass to Tony Lippett to take a 24-17 lead. The Spartans held Stanford to just a field goal the rest of the way to win the 100th Rose Bowl Game 24-20 Wednesday night in Pasadena. The Spartans recovered from a slow start, rallying from a 17-7 deficit late in the second quarter behind a strong performance from their defensive front, which stalled Stanford’s run game in the second half. MSU quarterback Connor Cook, the game’s most valuable player, added over 300 yards passing.
Michigan State head coach Mark Dantonio attributed the Spartans’ come-from-behind win to the team’s resiliency.
“We’re a very resilient football team,” he said. “I owe that to our leadership of our football team, the ground level, our seniors.”
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It appeared that Stanford may pull away from the Spartans late in the second quarter when junior linebacker Kevin Anderson picked off a pass by Cook and took it 40 yards for a touchdown to put the Cardinal ahead 17-7. However, Cook would bounce back from the mistake to lead the Spartans on a 75-yard drive that would culminate in a two-yard touchdown pass to sophomore fullback Trevon Pendleton to cut Stanford’s lead to 17-14 at the half.
Dantonio praised Cook for his ability to move past the interception and keep the Spartans in the game.
“Connor (Cook) is resilient, and he has the way to recollect himself and move forward. That’s what you have to do as a quarterback, you have to manage the situation and then you have to overcome adversity,” Dantonio said.
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Stanford came out strong with 146 yards and 10 points on its first two drives, but the Michigan State defense would clamp down the rest of the game and hold the Cardinal to just 159 yards the rest of the contest. Michigan State’s defense was particularly strong against Stanford’s vaunted rushing attacking, holding the Cardinal to just 162 rushing yards and limiting Stanford sophomore quarterback Kevin Hogan to 143 yards on 10 completions along with an interception.
After Michigan State’s initial troubles stopping Stanford’s offense, the Spartans seemed to adjust and focus on stopping the run – namely Stanford senior running back Tyler Gaffney.
“[Michigan State] made adjustments after the first couple runs, first couple drives of the series, and we didn’t respond like we needed to,” Gaffney said. “Everywhere I looked, there was a green defender, and that’s what they do, and that’s what they pride themselves on, and they did it well.”
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MSU came into the game without star linebacker Max Bullough, who was suspended for the game, but senior Kyler Elsworth stepped into his role to lead the Spartan defense in the middle. Elsworth ended up making one of the most important plays of the day for the Spartans on Stanford’s final drive, tackling fullback Ryan Hewitt for no gain on a fourth-and-one attempt to seal the victory.
“We missed Max and I love Max Bullough, but our linebacker position was a position of depth. Kyler Elsworth got a chance to make a play, (and) makes the play of the game,” Dantonio said.
For Stanford, it would be a game of missed opportunities, as it committed an uncharacteristic eight penalties, with some that continued Michigan State scoring drives or took away turnovers created by the Cardinal defense. The large number of penalties was part of an overall struggle for the Cardinal, in which it left a number of plays on the table, particularly dropped interceptions.
Along with penalties and mistakes, the Cardinal defense was beaten on a number of deep passes from Cook to his receivers.
“[Michigan State] made a few more plays than we could afford to give them with the downfield pass,” Stanford head coach David Shaw said. “Part of the strengths of our defense is not giving up those big plays, and we gave up too many today.”
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With the official attendance reported as 95,173, it was one of the most well-attended games in the bowl’s storied history, and Cook summed up his team’s and their fans’ feelings immediately after the game as they were presented the Rose Bowl trophy.
“I am lost for words. To be able to be here with my teammates and win the 100th Rose Bowl is such a special thing,” Cook said.
The win was the first in the Rose Bowl for Michigan State since 1988 and prevented Stanford from winning back-to-back Rose Bowls for the first time since 1971-72. With the win, Michigan State finishes the season at 13-1, and Stanford at 11-3.