PASADENA-Michigan State didn’t have a lot of national appeal coming into the 100th Rose Bowl game. Usually, the Spartans take a back seat every year to the likes of Michigan and Ohio State. Not this year. Not this time. This time around the Big Ten’s biggest moment belongs to Michigan State.
But as the late Rodney Dangerfield would say, “I get no respect,” that’s probably how the Spartans felt before the game.
That is probably something that Spartans felt throughout the season. The plots were all there for the Spartans to fall into a trap of being able to make excuses should they come up short against head coach David Shaw and his Stanford Cardinals.
The Spartans were already facing a deficit in their lineup when All-American linebacker Max Bullough was removed from the team for violating a team rule. When Stanford running back Tyler Gaffney scored the game’s first touchdown, it was looked like the hole Bullough used to fill would be exploited.
From top to bottom, the Spartans proved their mettle from game to game throughout the 2013 college football season, running through all comers on their way to a 13-1 overall mark for the season.
The No. 4 Spartans got to this point utilizing the team’s strength: its smothering and top-ranked defense, some giddy-up by running back Jeremy Langford and an unexpected performance by quarterback Connor Cook, who looked very comfortable on the big stage that the Grandaddy of Them All presents.
Cook did something that Kirk Cousins wasn’t able to do: guide his team to a Rose Bowl victory. Cousins, now an NFL quarterback currently with to the Washington Redskins, had to be amped at seeing Cook deliver a cool performance of passing for 332 yards and hitting wide receiver Tony Lippett for the go-ahead score that game Michigan State the lead for good on its way to a 24-20 win over No. 5 Stanford in Pasadena.
We’ve always believed in ourselves, no matter what the situation is, if we’re down, guys rally around each other,” Cook said following the game. “I think everyone on the whole football team is very optimistic, and the coaches put that in our minds. And then two, we’re just a balanced team. Our defense, they have been doing their thing the entire year. They’ve been shutting out our opponents and then our offense has really stepped up and become a lot more balanced in the pass game and run game. That’s allowed for success.”
Cook and the rest of his teammates would have to do it the hard way, coming from behind after trailing by 10 points early in the second quarter. The Spartans also did it riding the crest wave of toughness and grit exuded by their defense, which virtually shut down Stanford’s punishing rushing attack over the last three quarters.
Without Bullough in the mix of the team’s biggest game of the year, fellow linebacker Denicos Allen led the way. But he also brought some backup with him.
“You know, with the situation with Max, when we first heard of it, I wasn’t too worried because I know Kyler Elsworth,” Allen said. “For him I was kind of upset, but I know Kyler Elsworth is a playmaker. I’ve been playing with him for four years and he’s been making plays. Last year or the year before, he made a big block against Wisconsin and he’s made big stops on fourth down in the championship game a couple years ago.
“You know, I just had confidence in him. Just to play with the guys I played with on defense, to play with them for a senior year and to play the way we did, it was just a journey well worth it. It’s a great ending, and I’m going to be sad to leave my boys behind.”