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Defensive Stand Lifts Michigan State Past Stanford, 24-20, In Rose Bowl

Jeff Gross/Getty Images

Quarterback Connor Cook threw for a career-high 332 yards while the Spartans’ top-ranked defense dominated the second half to lead Michigan State to its first Rose Bowl victory in 26 years. Stanford’s potent running game appeared poised to take the game over early, rushing for 91 yards in the first quarter against a Michigan State defense that averaged less than that per game. But from that point on, the Spartans stiffened and held the Cardinal offense to just 71 rushing yards and three points the rest of the way.

Stanford jumped out to an early 10-0 lead, the first time all season that Michigan State had trailed by double digits. But once the defense buckled down, Cook and the Spartan offense had one of their strongest performances of the season. After throwing a costly pick-six that put Stanford up 17-7 with just over two minutes left before halftime, the sophomore quarterback led the Spartans on a seven-play, 75-yard touchdown drive to answer and cut the Cardinal lead to just three at the intermission. Michigan State then scored ten more unanswered points to take the lead in the second half. The Spartans defense sealed the victory when Kyler Elsworth, playing for the suspended All-Big Ten middle linebacker Max Bullough, dove over the pile for a huge stop on fourth-and-one with just 1:34 left to seal the victory.

Michigan State was making its first appearance in the Rose Bowl since 1987 and the crowd of 95,173 (the largest since 1998) was over two-thirds Spartan fans. With their second half rally, the Spartans became the first team since 2000 to win the Rose Bowl after trailing at halftime. They are just the second Big Ten team to win in Pasadena in the last 13 years.

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