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Duane Cross | | January 2, 2014

Cook, Gang Green set tempo for Rose Bowl win


PASADENA, Calif. – Stanford was infected with a severe case of Gang Green on Wednesday.

Michigan State’s nation-leading defense took a punch to the gut in the first quarter – the Spartans trailed 10-0, their largest first-quarter deficit of the season – but otherwise delivered body blow after body blow to Stanford en route to a 24-20 victory in the 100th Rose Bowl.

"I don't want to say we were tourists in the first half, but we didn't have our flash, emotions that we usually had," Michigan State head coach Mark Dantonio said. "But like we always have, we recollected ourselves; we're a very resilient football team."

Spartans ready to make most out of return
For all its defense did, the turning point for the Spartans was the final play of the first quarter, a near-interception that bounded from the hands of Stanford linebacker Kevin Anderson into the arms of Macgarrett Kings Jr. for a 14-yard pickup on third-and-11 from the Michigan State 24-yard line.

The MSU drive culminated with the Spartans’ first score of the game, a 2-yard touchdown scamper by Jeremy Langford to cap a 13-play, 75-yard drive to pull within 10-7 with 10:45 remaining until halftime.

Stanford’s second touchdown came with Michigan State’s defense on the sideline. Spartans quarterback Connor Cook was picked off by Anderson, who rambled 40 yards for the pick-six and a 17-7 Cardinal lead with 2:07 left in the second quarter.

Cook & Co. shook off the miscue and responded with another 75-yard scoring drive, which concluded with a 2-yard TD pass to Trevon Pendleton as the Spartans narrowed the gap to 17-14 with 28 ticks left in the first half.

“[Cook] has a lot of poise, especially in the pocket he’s able to extend plays and find open guys,” Stanford linebacker Shayne Skov said. “Look at the stats and what he did during the game; my hat goes off to him. He did a great job. We tried to get aftr him but at the same time I think he remained calm and made plays when he needed to.”

Dantonio agreed. “When Conner throws the interception, to be able to come back after that interception, go in the two-minute drive and get a touchdown to cut it back to three was huge, rather than going into the locker room 10 down.”

The moment wasn’t lost on Cook, either. “Any time you can end the half with a touchdown, coming down from the stupid decision that I made, that gives you so much momentum.”

From that point, the Michigan State defense began tightening the clamps on Stanford and the Spartans’ offense scuffled and scrapped long enough to pull ahead:

• Michigan State opened the second half with a 31-yard field goal from Michael Geiger to tie the game at 17. The big play was a 60-yard catch-and-run by Benny Fowler, the fifth-longest reception in MSU bowl history, and the mostly-clad-in-green crowd began to buzz even louder.

The game became a back-and-forth affair with neither team yielding much on their next two possessions:

2014Michigan State 24, Stanford 20
1988Michigan State 20, USC 17
1966UCLA 14, Michigan State 12
1956Michigan State 17, UCLA 14
1954Michigan State 28, UCLA 20

• On Stanford’s ensuing drive, Trae Waynes picked off Kevin Hogan to set up the Spartans with a first-and-10 at the MSU 22. The Spartans ran seven plays before punting.

• The Cardinal was stymied on a fourth-and-3 from the Spartans’ 36 as Tyler Gaffney was dropped for a 3-yard loss.

“Their front just gets in the backfield right away and that immediately disrupts the run,” Gaffney said. “They’re big and they’re strong, so when I lower a shoulder I’m not getting too much.

“You have to give it to Michigan State for stuffing that because everybody in the building knew exactly what was coming – a run was coming up the middle – and it was a test of wills, and they got the better of us.”

• Taking possession with less than four minutes to play in the third quarter, Michigan State began a methodical march that seemed destined to end in paydirt – until Langford fumbled at the Stanford 8-yard line.

However, Gang Green again rose to the occassion. Stanford was held to three-and-out and punted on fourth-and-11 to begin the fourth quarter. Kings Jr. fielded the ball at the Cardinal 46 and returned it 19 yards to set up the Spartans with first-and-10 at the Stanford 27 -- and MSU commenced with what proved to be the game-winning drive.

• Langford was dropped for a 2-yard loss. A false start penalty moved Michigan State back another five. Then Cook connected on a 9-yard completion to Josiah Price before hooking up with Tony Lippett on a 25-yard touchdown with 13:22 to play as the Spartans assumed their first lead at 24-17.

“They made a few more plays than we could afford to give them with the downfield pass,” Stanford head coach David Shaw lamented. “Part of the strengths of our defense is not giving up those big plays, and we gave up too many [Wednesday].

“The style of play is very similar,” Shaw added. “Two teams that play great defense, that run the ball and try to make big plays in the passing game.

“One has got to win, one has got to lose and we didn’t make enough plays for us to be on the right side.”

• Stanford’s first possession of the final quarter began at its 30-yard line. Three plays later, the Cardinal punted on fourth-and-3.

• With 12:03 on the clock, Michigan State started from its own 21. A 20-yard completion to Keith Mumphrey moved the ball to the MSU 41 but the drive stalled after Cook was sacked on third-and-9 for an 8-yard loss.

2014Michigan State 24, Stanford 20
2013Stanford 20, Wisconsin 14
2000Wisconsin 17, Stanford 9
1972Stanford 13, Michigan 12
1971Stanford 27, Ohio State 17
1952Illinois 40, Stanford 7
1941Stanford 21, Nebraska 13
1936Stanford 7, SMU 0
1935Alabama 29, Stanford 13
1934Columbia 7, Stanford 0
1928Stanford 7, Pittsburgh 6
1927Alabama 7, Stanford 7
1925Notre Dame 27, Stanford 10
1902Michigan 49, Stanford 0

• After a Michigan State punt, Stanford took possession at its own 28-yard line with 9:01 remaining. Michael Rector picked up 27 yards around right end – helped by a crushing block by Ryan Hewitt – to set up the Cardinal with first-and-10 at the MSU 45. Stanford worked its way to the Michigan State 17 and set up for a field goal; the play was botched and a penalty negated the completed pass, forcing the Cardinal to settle for a 39-yard field goal from Jordan Williamson.

• Buoyed by the defense’s bend-but-don’t-break series, Michigan State took possession with 4:15 remaining in the fourth quarter clinging to a 24-20 lead and looking to run out the clock on its first Rose Bowl victory since 1988. … The drive lasted but three plays and the Spartans punted.

• Stanford took the field with 3:06 remaining with the tune “The Final Countdown” ringing through the Rose Bowl. Indeed, it was the waning moments and all that remained to be seen was whether Michigan State could weather another Cardinal drive.

… Yes, the Spartans did, stonewalling Hewitt on fourth-and-1 at the Stanford 34 with 1:43 to play. The defensive stand capped a second-half effort in which Michigan State limited the Cardinal to 29 plays and 132 yards. (Stanford had 16 plays for 146 yards in the first quarter en route to a 10-0 lead.)

“Our defense played outstanding in the second half,” Dantonio said. “The stops on fourth down were huge for us.

“You win with toughness – there’s no question about that. You win with toughness, physically and mentally, and I thought we did that [Wednesday].”

Cook and the Spartans offense went into victory formation and three snaps later the Michigan State defense had solidified itself as the best in Pasadena – and the nation – and a celebration 26 years in the making was under way for the Gang Green faithful.

Game notes: Michigan State linebacker Kyler Ellsworth and Cook were named defensive and offensive MVPs. … Cook finished 22 of 36 for 332 yards and two TDs, passing for the third-most yards in MSU bowl history. … Lippett had five catches for a career-high 94 yards and a touchdown. … Langford rushed for 84 yards, ending a string of eight consecutive 100-yard games. … Anderson’s INT return for a TD was the first postseason pick-six for the Cardinal since Leroy Pruitt – on a lateral from Josh Madsen – in the 1996 Sun Bowl, also against Michigan State. … Stanford’s first TD in the 2013 Rose Bowl was a 16-yard run. Gaffney capped the Cardinal’s initial drive in the ’14 bowl with a 16-yard TD run. … Stanford also led Wisconsin 17-14 at halftime of the 2013 Rose Bowl; the Cardinal won 20-14. … Attendance was 95,173, the largest Rose Bowl crowd since 1998.

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