PASADENA, Calif. – Completion.
It was the one word Mark Dantonio said throughout the entire season and he was able to say it once more Wednesday night.
MSU defeated the Stanford Cardinal in a hard-fought nail-biter, 24-20, at the 100th annual Rose Bowl.
“The Rose Bowl to me is the pinnacle of what we do in the Big Ten Conference,” coach Dantonio said.
“I can just tell you the experiences that we had this week are really unparalleled and I’ve been to a lot of bowls over the course of my time. But it’s unparalleled.”
2013 was the highest attended Rose Bowl game since 1998. There were a whopping 95,000 fans and all Spartan smiles in a picture perfect season.
To start the game, legendary broadcaster Vin Scully flipped the coin to the Spartans’ way and they chose to defer to the second half.
But their challenge of the Stanford offense to start the game bit them in the back, as Stanford scored in a quick seven-play, 77-yard opening drive to put them up, 7-0.
In response, MSU’s first offensive play led to a 17-yard gain from Andrew Gleichert. But it was halted at midfield on a third-down stop on an option run.
For Stanford’s second drive, the Spartan defense returned back to their season-long form of dominance and held Stanford to a three-and-out.
After some back and forth from both teams, Stanford hit a 34-yard field goal to close the first quarter with a 10-0 lead.
Spartan quarterback Connor Cook noted the offensive struggles in the first half.
“…We had a little touristy feeling. I think our offense came out flat,” he said.
MSU got on the board in the second quarter, after a Jeremy Langford outside corner run, to cut the lead to three. Cook completed a few big pass plays leading to the Langford score.
The rest of the quarter was a battle of defenses, but the last four minutes of the half brought some quick scores.
Stanford faithful were rejuvenated on a 40-yard pick six by Kevin Anderson on a pressured mistake by Cook. Stanford brought pressure from the ends, and Cook lobbed the ball at the line of scrimmage looking for an outside screen.
But Cook shook off the interception and drove down the field the next possession for a 75-yard drive. He connected with fullback Trevor Pendleton in the end zone with 28 seconds left in the half.
“Yeah, (I) ask Connor what I always ask him when he makes a play…that goes against us,” Dantonio explained. “Are you all right? And he always says, ‘yeah, I’m good coach.’ He gives me a little fist bump and I feel better and we all go our own way.”
MSU tied the game at 17 in the second half with a Michael Geiger field goal on their first drive.
On the following drive, the no fly zone of Michigan State came back alive when Trae Waynes took a deep pass away from Stanford quarterback, Kevin Hogan.
And the defense from both teams battled the rest of the game, as the third quarter remained quiet.
In the fourth, Cook and the Spartans took the lead on a third down, deep slant pass to Tony Lippett, for a 24-17 lead.
The MSU defense held the seven-point lead throughout the fourth and eventually allowed a field goal with 4:15 left in the game, making it 24-20.
Running out the clock was then the goal, but they could not move the chains and were forced to punt. It gave Stanford one last chance to drive down the field.
With no timeouts, Stanford had to win the game with a touchdown. But on an important fourth down and short for Stanford, Kyler Elsworth filled the shoes of linebacker Max Bullough and stopped a run up the gut for a turnover on downs. MSU then ran out the clock and put in fifth-year senior Andrew Maxwell to take the final snap of the game.
Offensive player of the game Connor Cook stressed that the success from this year would not stop after the victory.
“Obviously, the expectations are sky high,” Cook said. “I think we’ll come together as a team and have that talk and stress how important next year is, and from what we were able to do this year…there’s no reason why we can’t do it next year, as well.”
With an Alabama loss, the Spartans could be ranked as high as No. 2 in the nation with the victory.
Alex Scharg is a multimedia journalist for Impact Sports.
Photo: Michigan State Spartans