PASADENA, CALIFORNIA – When Kyler Elsworth soared over the pile to deliver the final hit of Michigan State’s season, the storybook ending came with a moral.
After so many years outside the spotlight, the Spartans are in nobody’s shadow anymore. And for the first time in 26 years, they’re Rose Bowl champions.
Connor Cook passed for a career-high 332 yards and hit Tony Lippett with a tiebreaking 25-yard touchdown pass early in the fourth quarter, leading No. 4 Michigan State to a 24-20 victory over No. 5 Stanford Wednesday night in the 100th Rose Bowl.
Cook also threw a TD pass to Trevon Pendleton, and Jeremy Langford rushed for 84 yards and a score for the Big Ten champion Spartans (13-1), who finished their season with 10 straight wins and their first Rose Bowl victory since 1988.
Michigan State overcame its first double-digit deficit of the entire season along the way, and the Spartans’ FBS-best defense capped a dominant season with one more old-school, smash-mouth performance befitting the centennial celebration of the Granddaddy of Them All.
“It’s a special time for all Spartans, and we came here in force,” coach Mark Dantonio said. “I’m very happy for our football team, the resilience we showed all season long.”
Michigan State’s defense yielded just 159 yards in the final three quarters and ended it by stopping the Pac-12 champion Cardinal (11-3) on fourth-and-1 near midfield with 1:46 to play, stuffing a run play up the middle.
Elsworth, a fill-in starter for suspended senior linebacker Max Bullough, hurdled the pile to deliver an electrifying, head-on hit to fullback Ryan Hewitt while his teammates helped out below.
“When I saw their offensive linemen’s stance, I knew the way to make a play was to go over the top,” said Elsworth, selected the game’s defensive MVP.
The huge Michigan State contingent in the Rose Bowl stands roared at the play, and even the stone-faced Dantonio visibly celebrated.
“I get a little excited at the Rose Bowl,” Dantonio deadpanned.
No. 15 Central Florida 52, No. 6 Baylor 42: In Glendale, Arizona, Blake Bortles threw for 301 yards and accounted for four touchdowns, Storm Johnson ran for three more scores, and Central Florida pulled off one of the biggest upsets of the bowl season.
A 17-point underdog, the Golden Knights (12-1) didn’t back down from the Bears, racing past the nation’s top offensive team with an array of big plays, piling up 556 total yards in the highest-scoring game in Fiesta Bowl history.
Nebraska 24, No. 23 Georgia 19: In Jacksonville, Florida, Tommy Armstrong Jr. connected with Quincy Enunwa for two touchdowns, including a 99-yarder.
Capital One Bowl
No. 8 South Carolina 34, No. 19 Wisconsin 24: In Orlando, Florida, Connor Shaw was responsible for five touchdowns, including three passing.
No. 14 LSU 21, Iowa 14: In Tampa, Florida, Jeremy Hill ran for 216 yards and two touchdowns for LSU.
Heart of Dallas Bowl
North Texas 36, UNLV 14: In Dallas, Derek Thompson threw for 256 yards and two touchdowns, Brelan Chancellor scored twice and the Mean Green were dominant in the second half.