Trailing by four points to Michigan State late in the fourth quarter and facing fourth-and-1, the third-year Stanford football coach dialed up an inside run — a handoff to fullback Ryan Hewitt — and the fifth-year senior was stuffed at the line of scrimmage, sealing a 24-20 Spartans win.
Michigan State (13-1) slowly cut into an early 10-0 Stanford lead, only trailed 17-14 at the half, then moved ahead for good when quarterback Connor Cook connected with Tony Lippett for a 25-yard touchdown pass with 13:22 left in the fourth quarter.
It is Michigan State’s first Rose Bowl victory since 1988.
On another crucial play in the third quarter, facing fourth-and-2 on the Michigan State 28-yard line with the score tied at 17-17, Stanford (11-3) dialed up another run — this time a shotgun handoff to senior running back Tyler Gaffney — that was stopped 3 yards in the backfield for a turnover on downs.
“I’m going to put the ball in the hands of our guys and put it on the offensive line,” Shaw said. “We’re going to go for it on fourth down in that situation, because we’ll put it back on our defense.”
Gaffney finished with 91 yards on 24 carries and quarterback Kevin Hogan had limited success through the air with 143 yards and an interception on 10-of-18 passing.
Cook finished the game with 332 yards and two touchdowns on 22-of-36 passing. It was the fourth time Stanford has allowed over 300 yards passing this season and the Spartans gained 397 yards, the fourth-highest output on the Cardinal defense this year.
Stanford jumped on the nation’s top-ranked defense early with a 77-yard, seven-play touchdown drive on its opening possession, capped by a 16-yard run by Gaffney with 11:16 left in the first quarter. A 43-yard pass Hogan to Michael Rector on the second play from scrimmage set up the first score.
The Cardinal forced midfield punts on Michigan State’s first two drives of the game and Gaffney broke off a 47-yard run to set up a field goal, giving the Cardinal a 10-0 lead after the first quarter.
But the first-quarter surge didn’t last. The Cardinal offense struggled to move the ball consistently in the final three quarters and didn’t score on an offensive possession again until a 39-yard field goal by Jordan Williamson cut the Michigan State lead to 24-20 with 4:15 left in the fourth quarter.
The Cardinal had 146 offensive yards in the first quarter and 159 combined in the final three. After their opening drive resulted in a touchdown, the Cardinal only got inside the Michigan State 20-yard line twice and both trips resulted in field goals.
“We played very, very firm inside, especially the second half,” Michigan State coach Mark Dantonio said. “When you look at the second half, we shut them down.”
While the Stanford offense was shut out of the end zone after the opening drive, a single defensive miscue in the final moments of the first quarter sharply shifted what appeared to be the beginnings of a Stanford rout.
With 11 seconds left in the opening quarter, Cook sent a pass directly to Stanford linebacker Kevin Anderson on third down. The ball slipped through Anderson’s hands, deflected off his chest and bounced directly to Michigan State receiver Macgarrett Kings Jr., who secured the catch.
Not only did the play give the Spartans a first down, but Anderson had only the offensive line and Cook between him and the end zone. Ten plays later, Michigan State running back Jeremy Langford ran in a touchdown from 2 yards out to cut the Stanford lead to 10-7.
Anderson got a chance at redemption later in the quarter and didn’t waver, when he intercepted a poor screen pass by Cook and returned it 40 yards for a touchdown to give the Cardinal a 17-7 lead with 2:07 remaining in the first half.
Stanford cornerback Wayne Lyons also dropped an interception in the third quarter and the Cardinal got its second turnover of the game when linebacker Shayne Skov stripped Michigan State’s Langford on the Stanford 8-yard line and defensive end Josh Mauro recovered the fumble.
“We got some and we missed some,” Skov said. “That’s the nature of football.”