In a Rose Bowl that featured two hard-nosed running games, it was a quarterback who led his team to victory.
Game MVP Connor Cook threw for 332 yards and two touchdowns, as No. 4 Michigan State overcame an early 10-point deficit and stuffed No. 5 Stanford on a late drive to cap a 24-20 win in the 100th Granddaddy of Them All on Wednesday afternoon.
The Michigan State Spartans take down Stanford 24-20 in the 100th meeting of the Rose Bowl! pic.twitter.com/MmXMXNX15G— Bleacher Report (@BleacherReport) January 2, 2014
It wasn't always pretty.
With just over two minutes remaining in the second quarter, Cook made a poor decision under pressure, dumping the ball into the hands of Stanford's Kevin Anderson, who returned the interception 40 yards into the end zone to put the Cardinal ahead, 17-7.
As ESPN Stats & Info pointed out, it was uncharted territory for the Spartans in 2013.
Michigan State had never trailed by more than 8 points in any game this season prior to #RoseBowl100— ESPN Stats & Info (@ESPNStatsInfo) January 1, 2014
But the sophomore Cook refused to fold. On the very next possession, he connected on plays of 24, 11 and 37 yards before finding Trevon Pendleton in the end zone, as the Spartans marched 75 yards in 1:39 to cut the lead to three before halftime.
The Spartans continued to control both sides of the ball, eventually taking their first lead at 24-17 early in the fourth quarter.
Spartans LB Denicos Allen said Dantonio called team out at halftime, said they were flat. Got the response he wanted #STANvsMSU— ESPN Big Ten (@ESPN_BigTen) January 2, 2014
Stanford never really looked comfortable against an equally physical team and couldn't lead the comeback.
The Cardinal exploded out of the gates with a dominant first quarter, but in rare fashion for a David Shaw-coached team, they struggled to run the ball after that, wasted opportunities on defense and committed eight penalties. They had a chance to win in the final minutes but went four-and-out when the Spartans stuffed them on two runs.
For Mark Dantonio, who is reportedly in line for a big raise, per ESPN.com's Joe Schad, the late fourth-and-one stop is a fitting cap to a tremendous season that was powered by an incredible defense. This is the Spartans' first Rose Bowl win since 1987.
It is also a win that will give the Spartans a boost in the postseason polls (via Bryan Fischer):
Would guess Michigan State finishes 2nd in the polls if FSU wins. What a tremendous job Dantonio did building the program to this moment.— Bryan Fischer (@BryanDFischer) January 2, 2014
Kevin Hogan, Stanford: C+
Kevin Hogan, you just can't make plays like this:
The junior QB throws a nice deep ball, as he proved on the next drive with a 51-yard strike on the money to Devon Cajuste, but that interception was a horrendous decision and largely sums up his forgettable night.
His final numbers weren't terrible (10-of-18 passing, 143 yards), but Hogan could just never get in a rhythm against the Spartans defense.
Connor Cook, Michigan State: A-
Cook was far from perfect on the night. At times, he made poor decisions and forced throws into tight coverage. One of those went for a pick-six, and his final line could have looked much worse if Stanford didn't drop a couple of interceptions.
Still, at the end of the day, he showed great resiliency, made some tremendous plays, put up big numbers against a very stout defense (completed 61.1 percent of his throws for 9.2 yards per attempt) and played confidently:
Michigan St. QB Connor Cook is #RoseBowl100 offensive MVP. He sets career high w/ 332 Pass yds. Previous high was 304 in B1G Champ. Game.— SportsCenter (@SportsCenter) January 2, 2014
Arguably the best game of his career in the 100th Rose Bowl. Not bad.
Shayne Skov, Stanford: A
Shayne Skov was everywhere. As the game wore on, it appeared as though he was actually playing every position on defense.
The senior linebacker made plays all over the gridiron. He flew to the ball for tackles, consistently caused pressure in the backfield and forced a key fumble in the red zone late in the third quarter.
Skov had a tremendous season, and this was an appropriate collegiate swan song.
Michigan State Front Seven: A
Not one individual player here, obviously, but the Spartans' entire front seven deserves credit. The defensive line controlled the trenches for much of the game and the linebackers got impressive penetration on running plays.
After Tyler Gaffney tallied 68 yards on his first five carries, his next 19 went for just 23. Put it all together, and he finished with 3.8 yards per carry. Against a smash-mouth team like Stanford, the Spartans defense was terrific.
A game-winning stand cemented the fantastic performance.