Two football teams that – with their old school, smash-mouth, three-yards-and-a-cloud-of-dust style of play – would have fit in perfectly in the 1930s.
On a New Year’s Day that featured typically spectacular Southern California weather and the great Dodger announcer Vin Scully serving as the Tournament of Roses Parade’s Grand Marshall, I’ll make this as simple a statement as possible:
This 100th Rose Bowl game between fifth-ranked Stanford and fourth-ranked Michigan State unfolded as everyone thought it would; an evenly-played, hard-fought affair that made for a brilliant conclusion.
So much so that a mere two factors led to Michigan State’s 24-20 win before 95,173 patrons in Pasadena, the largest crowd since 1998, with around 70 percent of them in Spartan green:
2. Michigan State showed – in crystal clear fashion – that they wanted this game more.
Scoring 17 of the game’s last 20 points after Stanford’s Kevin Anderson intercepted a Cook pass and returned it 40 yards for a touchdown to put his team up by ten points with 2:51 left in the second quarter is excellent evidence of that.
As for Cook, no one, perhaps in the history of this “Granddaddy Of Them All”, deserved the game’s offensive MVP award more than this Spartan signal caller as he provided the first of the Rose Bowl’s two turning points when he answered Anderson’s pick-six with a touchdown throw to Trevon Pendleton with 40 seconds left to cut the Cardinal’s lead to 17-14 at halftime.
That alone showed the redshirt sophomore’s resilience and composure and set the tone for the second half, where the Big Ten champions showed why they had the nation’s number one defense as save for a handful of plays, they stuffed Stanford’s running game time and time again, giving up but three points after Tyler Gaffney , who led all rushers with 91 yards, scored the game’s first points with a 16-yard run in the first quarter.
For the game, Cook completed 22 of 36 passes for 322 yards and two touchdowns while Hogan completed ten throws for 143 yards and a pick.
The other turning point was in the third quarter when the Pac-12 champion Cardinal, after a long gain, faced a 4th down and four with the game tied at 17.
Coach David Shaw, rather than trying something different to throw the Spartans’ defense off like a play action pass or a bootleg, played right into MSU’s strength when he called a run play right up the gut.
Which failed miserably.
Cook’s 25-yard scoring pass to Tony Lippett early in the fourth was a mere byproduct of Michigan State wanting to win more than Stanford (11-3); it capped the Spartan comeback in taking a 24-17 lead and – save for a 39-yard field goal by Jordan Williamson to cut the lead to four – made things academic after that.
Not that Stanford quit as they played just as hard as Michigan State (13-1) in giving up just 65 rushing yards total, but MSU’s FBS-best defense, who gave up just 11 first downs and capped off what was only the Big Ten’s second win in Pasadena in the last ten tries and the Spartans’ first trip to the Rose Bowl in 26 years, was simply too much as they proceeded to absolutely stuff Stanford’s offense the last 15 minutes.
One impressive thing in all of this was not only the fact that the Spartans won without their defensive leader, linebacker Max Bullough, who was left in East Lansing due to being suspended for braking team rules…
It was also the fact that Bullough’s replacement, Kyler Elsworth, that put the final exclamation point on a great day for Spartan Nation when he made the final tackle on a 4th down run attempt by Stanford’s Ryan Hewitt with 1:46 left, eating defensive MVP honors for his efforts and allowing his offensive team mates to go into victory formation.
Michigan State coach Mark Dantoni, whose team blasted the notion of being the “little brother” of Michigan and Ohio State on Wednesday and made it a special point to give credit and love to the roughly 65,000 Spartan fans who made the trip west, remarked:
“It’s a special time for all Spartans, and we came here in force…I’m very happy for out football team, the resilience we showed all season long.”
I suppose history repeated itself in Stanford’s second straight excursion to Pasadena in that they lost the very first Rose Bowl game in 1902 to Michigan, getting clobbered by the Wolverines 49-0.
Though this wasn’t nearly as much of a beatdown as that 1902 game was, it was clear that Michigan State wouldn’t be denied.