Michigan State comes up Roses
Published on -1/2/2014, 9:57 AM
By GREG BEACHAM
PASADENA, Calif. -- On a confetti-covered stage atop a hallowed field, Michigan State coach Mark Dantonio managed to sum up a quarter-century of frustration, a stellar season and a tenacious bowl victory in one word.
"Completion," he said.
With a 24-20 victory over Stanford on Wednesday night, the Spartans reached the goal set by Dantonio seven years ago. They're champions of the Rose Bowl, rulers of the Big Ten -- and nobody's little brother anymore.
Connor Cook passed for a career-high 332 yards and hit Tony Lippett with a tiebreaking 25-yard touchdown pass early in the fourth quarter, and No. 4 Michigan State held off the fifth-ranked Cardinal in the 100th Rose Bowl.
Cook also threw a TD pass to Trevon Pendleton, and Jeremy Langford rushed for 84 yards and a score as the Spartans overcame their first double-digit deficit of the entire season before surging ahead late and preserving the lead with stalwart defense. Michigan State finished its breakthrough season with 10 straight wins, holding off the Pac-12 champion Cardinal (11-3) for the school's first Rose Bowl victory since 1988.
"It's a special time for all Spartans, and we came here in force," Dantonio said. "I'm very happy for our football team, the resilience we showed all season long."
The Spartans have long labored behind Ohio State, Wisconsin and Michigan -- where they're derisively called the Wolverines' little brothers -- among the Midwest's top programs, but Michigan State is in charge now.
Michigan State's FBS-best defense capped its dominant season with one more old-school performance befitting the centennial celebration of the Granddaddy of Them All. The Spartans (13-1) yielded just 159 yards in the final three quarters, and they closed it out by stopping Stanford fullback Ryan Hewitt on fourth-and-1 near midfield with 1:46 to play.
Kyler Elsworth, the fifth-year senior filling in for suspended starting linebacker Max Bullough, hurdled the pile and flew into Michigan State lore with a spectacular head-on tackle.
"When I saw their offensive linemen's stance, I knew the way to make a play was to go over the top," said Elsworth, the game's defensive MVP. "I was hoping they would run a play like they did on their fourth down. It's a one-in-a-lifetime play. We proved we could play on the big stage on the national level."
Tyler Gaffney ran for 91 yards and an early TD for Stanford, and linebacker Kevin Anderson returned an interception 40 yards for a score late in the first half. But the Cardinal couldn't follow up last season's victory over Wisconsin with back-to-back Rose Bowl wins, managing just three points from their offense after the first quarter.
And Gaffney could only watch as Hewitt was stopped on Stanford's final play.
"You have to give it to Michigan State for stuffing that," said Gaffney, who managed just 24 yards after the first quarter. "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."
Cook led in his own inimitable fashion, making incredible plays and huge mistakes along the way. Along with his second-quarter interception on a lollipop of a throw to Anderson, who scored untouched, he also threw two passes that went through the hands of Cardinal defenders.
But when the Spartans needed big plays in the second half, Cook repeatedly delivered, finishing 22 for 36.
"When we got down, guys were always helping each other," Cook said. "We're such a balanced team."
NO. 23 GEORGIA 19
JACKSONVILLE, Fla. (AP) -- Tommy Armstrong Jr. connected with Quincy Enunwa for two touchdowns, including a 99-yarder in the third quarter, and Nebraska held on to beat Georgia in the rain-soaked Gator Bowl.
Playing in their 50th bowl, the Cornhuskers (9-4) ended a four-game losing streak against teams from the Southeastern Conference. The streak included a 45-31 loss to Georgia in the Capital One Bowl last season.
The rematch was much different.
Nebraska did a solid job against running back Todd Gurley, who ran for 125 yards and a touchdown last year. Gurley finished with 86 yards on the ground.
Gurley was more effective in the passing game, catching seven passes for 97 yards and a score. His 25-yard scoring reception on the first play of the fourth quarter cut Nebraska's lead to 24-19.
But the Huskers stopped Georgia (8-5) twice on fourth down in the closing minutes.
CAPITAL ONE BOWL
NO. 8 SOUTH CAROLINA 34
NO. 19 WISCONSIN 24
ORLANDO, Fla. (AP) -- Connor Shaw was responsible for five touchdowns, including three passing, and South Carolina outlasted Wisconsin in the Capital One Bowl.
The senior was selected the game MVP after picking apart the Badgers' defense, completing 22 of 25 passes for 312 yards. Shaw also had rushing and receiving scores.
The game also turned out to be the final college contest for South Carolina star defensive end Jadeveon Clowney, who said afterward that he would forgo his senior season to enter the NFL draft.
South Carolina (11-2) won its third straight bowl game to cap its third straight 11-win season.
Bruce Ellington caught six passes for 140 yards and two touchdowns.
The Badgers (9-4) lost their fourth straight bowl game, failing to capitalize on 100-yard rushing games from both Melvin Gordon and James White, and struggling after quarterback Joel Stave left in the third quarter with a shoulder injury. Backup Curt Phillips threw two interceptions.
NO. 14 LSU 21, IOWA 14
TAMPA, Fla. (AP) -- Jeremy Hill ran for 216 yards and two touchdowns, helping LSU and inexperienced quarterback Anthony Jennings hold off Iowa in the Outback Bowl.
Craig Loston's fourth-quarter interception stopped a potential tying drive, giving Hill a chance to put the game out of reach by carrying four times for 87 yards on a 92-yard march that gave LSU (10-3) a 21-7 lead.
Iowa (8-5) pulled within a touchdown after Jordan Cotton returned the ensuing kickoff to the Tigers 4.
Jennings rushed for one touchdown, but the freshman threw for only 82 yards and was intercepted once and sacked four times while standing in for the injured Zach Mettenberger in his first college start.
C.J. Beathard replaced Jake Rudock at quarterback for Iowa on the first play of the fourth quarter. His fourth-down interception stopped one promising drive, but he also tossed a 4-yard TD pass to Kevonte Martin-Manley that cut it 21-14 with 1:42 remaining.
Safety John Lowdermilk set up Iowa's other TD -- Mark Weisman's 2-yard run in the third quarter -- with an interception and 71-yard return to the 1. Officials initially ruled Lowdermilk, who was untouched on the return, scored. But the TD was reversed when a replay review determined the Iowa defender dropped the ball before crossing the goal line.
HEART OF DALLAS BOWL
NORTH TEXAS 36, UNLV 14
DALLAS (AP) -- Derek Thompson threw for 256 yards and two touchdowns, Brelan Chancellor scored twice and North Texas dominated the second half to beat UNLV in the Heart of Dallas Bowl.
Both of Chancellor's touchdown runs came in the fourth quarter after he keyed the go-ahead scoring drive in the third with some nifty footwork on a first-down catch. He had 121 yards combined rushing and receiving.
The Mean Green (9-4) were making their first postseason appearance since a 2004 New Orleans Bowl loss to Southern Miss and won a bowl for the first sice New Orleans in 2002.
UNLV (7-6) drove 95 yards for a touchdown on its opening possession but didn't score again until the Mean Green were up 28-7 in the fourth quarter.