When the sun rises on a New Years day, ibuprofen and water rescue millions of revelers from enduring hours of headache and sluggish torment. Unfortunately after today’s 24-20 loss to #4 Michigan State in the 100th Rose Bowl, Stanford fans and alumni the world over – are going to find that getting rid of this loss, this headache, this pounding sense of frustration, will require a lot more than just a simple combination of pharmaceuticals and H2O.
“It’s difficult…it’s never easy to lose,” said a melancholy Shayne Skov after competing in his final game in a Stanford uniform. He finished the game with 9 tackles and one sack.
The defensive standout and leader of Nerd Nation, knows what it is like to win at the Rose Bowl, being triumphant last year against Wisconsin. But unfortunately for him, Trent Murphy, Tyler Gaffney and the rest of the Cardinal, tonight is the furthest feeling from exhilarating joy.
On a gorgeous New Years day in Southern California, it seemed as if the entire city of East Lansing, Michigan escaped the harsh elements of home and invaded Pasadena. Chants of ” Go Green, Go White,” rang throughout grounds before the game and inside the majestic Rose Bowl stadium where 95,173 people, well over 60% of which were clad in Spartan green, witnessed their defense stymie Stanford’s run game.
The Spartans, who are ranked as the number one rushing defense in all of college football, showed signs of butterflies and nerves early against Kevin Hogan and Stanford.
A forty three yard pass to Michael Rector set up a couple of clutch, drive extending, scrambles from Cardinal quarterback, Kevin Hogan. Then it was Tyler Gaffney’s turn to pound the rock, literally. Gaffney’s 16 yard opening touchdown run was a bruising scamper, as he bounced off a Michigan State defender before running into the Stanford emblazoned end zone; immediately sending Cardinal fans into a frenzy. And for that half, the Cardinal were able to execute on the ground netting 102 yards including a 47 yard run from Gaffney.
A field goal from Jordan Williamson followed the opening touchdown and Stanford finished the first quarter up 10-0. But Stanford left points in purgatory instead of on the scoreboard.
Late in the first quarter, when the traveling State fans, were not at their most audible, Kevin Anderson had a great opportunity to pummel Connor Cook and the Spartans, but a sure fire interception slipped through his hands. It would prove particularly costly as the Spartans’ running back, Jeremy Langford, was able to finish that drive and begin the 2nd quarter with a touchdown on the ground.
A would be interception and a pass interference penalty (despite the ball being high and unplayable) on Wayne Lyons, assisted Michigan State in a time consuming, 5:55 minute, 75 yard drive.
Anderson, however, made up for his missed interception emphatically with a forty yard pick six.
Usua Amanam provided the pressure, forcing Michigan State quarterback, Connor Cook, to make the costly mistake. At that point the score was 17-7, the sea of Green and White were silent, and Stanford looked to be on their way toward rounding out the half with momentum on their side.
MSU’s head coach Mark Dontonio and Cook had other ideas.
Instead of quivering after tossing up a wobbler, give credit to Cook for marching his side right down the field on the ensuing drive to cut Stanford’s lead to three. His tight end,Trevon Pendelton scored a the touchdown with only 28 seconds left in the half. Jarek Lancaster slipped on the play as Pendleton was able to improvise and give Cook a viable option when his pocket broke down.
With that touchdown the score was 17-14, but Cook and the Spartans were just warming up.
After the reset, Bennie Fowler hauled in a a massive 65 yard catch for the Spartans, putting the Cardinal defense in a bind immediately in the third quarter. The Cardinal were able to rebound and stop the Spartans from scoring six, but after nailing a short field goal, the game was knotted at 17.
Cook finished the game with a career high 332 yards and two touchdowns to boot.
The ensuing drive for Stanford’s offense did not produce a promising retort either, as a deep bomb for Michael Rector was thrown into double coverage and turned into a Kevin Hogan interception and a full swing of Spartan momentum.
The momentum though, was fleeting, as the game boiled down into a defensive struggle.
Shayne Skov forced a major, drive killing fumble in the third quarter that kept the game and the Rose Bowl title within reach. Regrettably, another dropped interception and one negated because of a defensive holding, were moments that Stanford wishes it could have back.
For Michigan State, Tony Lippett’s 25 yard touchdown catch early in the fourth quarter to give the Spartans their first lead in the game, proved to be the deciding factor. A 39 yard field goal from Williamson form the Cardinal was the only response David Shaw’s men were able to provide.
And while Stanford did have opportunities to shift momentum in their favor early, many fans are going to point the second half play calling as a source of head scratching frustration.
Despite Kevin Hogan who was making plays early on, even with his legs, Shaw decided to win the game with Gaffney, almost exclusively. Hogan only threw the ball 18 times and finished tonight’s contest with 143 yards and zero touchdowns.
One first down, on fourth down, and everything in between, the Cardinal kept feeding Gaffney the ball against a bullish defensive unit that salivates at stopping the running game. When it became clear to everyone watching that Stanford was going to run up the gut, despite trailing and the clock ticking, the Spartans just had to excel at what they are excellent at.
As seconds ticked away and Stanford’s hopes were pined on converting a 4th and 1, Kyler Elseworth put on his cape and soared over the pile to stuff the run and deliver a title that has eluded a program for 26 years.
Although the program has seen great success in recent years, tonight’s loss and the exasperating way it came about, feels like an eternity.
Follow Jeremy on twitter @jermg11