Michigan State has canceled all sports activities as our community deals with the COVID-19 pandemic. In a time when sports have ceased, The State News is looking back at great moments in Michigan State's sports history. Soon, we’ll be back to a world with sports, but for now, the past will have to do.
Today, we’ll be looking at the 2014 Rose Bowl game played between Michigan State football and Stanford.
We’ll be compiling these moments into a bracket with the MSU community voting on the best one, starting on April 1, via Twitter.
Date: January 1, 2014
Venue: Rose Bowl Stadium, Pasadena, California
Matchup: No. 4 Michigan State (12-1) vs. No. 5 Stanford (11-2)
The background: People weren’t expecting much from the Spartans coming into the 2013 season, as the team was coming off of a lackluster 7-6 campaign that ended with an underwhelming one-point win over Texas Christian University in the 2012 Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl.
Quarterback Connor Cook took over for a struggling Andrew Maxwell early in the 2013 season and quickly established himself as the clear starter moving forward for the green and white. Cook would go on to throw for 2,755 yards to go along with 22 touchdowns and six interceptions that season, leading MSU to the Big Ten championship game against No. 2 Ohio State.
The Buckeyes, led by Braxton Miller and Carlos Hyde on offense and Ryan Shazier and Bradley Roby on defense, provided the ultimate test for the Spartans as they were looking to continue their late-season surge. Cook led MSU to a 34-24 victory over OSU, winning MVP of the game and punching a ticket to Pasadena, California for a date with the Stanford Cardinals.
The game: The Spartans fell behind 10-0 early, but a two-yard rushing touchdown by running back Jeremy Langford brought the green and white to within three in the second quarter.
A 40-yard pick-six by Stanford linebacker Kevin Anderson was the highlight of the first half, and the Cardinal carried a 17-14 lead into the second half as a result.
Cook put the Spartans ahead for good with 13:22 remaining in the fourth quarter, when he found wide receiver Tony Lippett for a 25-yard touchdown pass. Stanford tacked on a field goal with just over four minutes to go in the game to come within four, and the game-defining play was made several minutes later.
Fourth down and one yard to go. Stanford had the ball on their own 34-yard line, down 24-20. The game was on the line. If Stanford could convert, they would continue their drive down the field with hopes of winning the game. A Spartan stop would secure the victory and validate their bounce-back season.
“He stuffed him!” screamed Spartan color-analyst Jason Strayhorn, echoing what most fans watching the game simultaneously pronounced. Stanford elected to hand the ball off to fullback Ryan Hewitt, who tried to jump over the pile of linemen and gain the extra yard.
Mid-jump, Hewitt was met by MSU walk-on Kyler Elsworth, who was able to prevent the first down and put his Spartan team into the history books as champions of the 100th Rose Bowl game.
The aftermath: One of the biggest “what-ifs” in MSU history is how the Spartans would have fared had there been a College Football Playoff in 2013. The playoff system wasn’t implemented until the following year, but had there been one that season, MSU would have played Jameis Winston and the eventual national champion Florida State Seminoles in the semifinal.
The Spartans would go on to participate in the College Football Playoff during Cook’s senior season in 2015, getting crushed by Alabama 38-0.
The Rose Bowl season would catapult coach Mark Dantonio and his team into a three year stretch of national prominence, running up a 36-5 record between 2013-15.
Dantonio abruptly retired earlier this year, and finished his career as the winningest coach in MSU history. His successor, former Colorado coach Mel Tucker, will now look to re-establish Michigan State as a powerhouse.
Only time will tell how long that will take.