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Stanford Gets Dose Of Its Own Medicine

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Connor Cook threw for a career high 332 yards and helped Michigan State win the 100th Rose Bowl. Photo by Stephen Dunn/Getty Images.
Connor Cook threw for a career high 332 yards and helped Michigan State win the 100th Rose Bowl. Photo by Stephen Dunn/Getty Images.

Michigan State beat Stanford 24-20 and won their first Rose Bowl in 26 years. Here are the key takeaways from the game.

What Won It For MSU

Fourth-down defense. There are few things more humiliating for a physical team than getting stuffed on fourth down — twice. MSU stopped Stanford, both times in the second half, and it sucked confidence from the Cardinal offense. Stanford's offensive linemen pride themselves on making holes and the running backs pride themselves on toughness, but the Michigan State defense bested them. Stanford flexed its muscles and it wasn’t big enough.

Because MSU dominated, Stanford settled. Down 24-17, Stanford needed to go for it on fourth-and-5. Instead, it kicked a field goal, then was flagged on a broken play and had to try again on fourth-and-10. Stanford was 0-for-2 on conversions and Michigan intimidated it from going for it again. Stanford scored no more points and the field goal only made the score line look closer than it was.

What Could Have Won It For Stanford

Three more, two more, even one more interception. The ball bounced in and out of two Stanford defenders during the course of the game. Stanford even picked off Connor Cook, only to have it negated by a penalty. Cook had a wonderful game, but was careless with the ball at times. Stanford capitalized once for a touchdown, but should have had even more takeaways.

The first missed opportunity bounced off linebacker Kevin Anderson’s hands and into Macgarrett Kings Jr.’s on third-and-10 during MSU’s first scoring drive. Had Stanford managed to get the ball on the MSU 35-yard line, it would have gone up at least 13-0, perhaps 17-0. The complexion of the game would have changed.

Stanford Unable To Adapt

Stanford gets creative when it wants big plays. The reverse to Michael Rector could have been a turning point in the game. However, one fourth-quarter play was not enough to make up for the adjustments that MSU made at half.

Tyler Gaffney looked stumped and lost yardage on four rushes in the third quarter. Stanford managed two big plays, yet could not turn them into touchdowns. Field goals were not going to win them the game.

Stanford needed some impatience in their game. It looked like it was playing with the lead. For once, it wasn’t, and it couldn’t figure out how to get the lead back. When it turned to the passing game, Kevin Hogan threw an interception.

Pressure Cooker

I wrote an article that compared the quarterbacks and said they were replicas. I stand by that assessment, as Cook gave the defense too many chances, but Stanford could not catch the ball. Hogan’s stat lines were half of Cook’s because he threw half the passes. He was also missing Ty Montgomery due to injury.

While the stat lines could have — and maybe should have — been similar, they were not. Cook was the better quarterback, far and away. His career-high 332 yards showed Stanford’s inability to defend the pass, something I’ve said all year.

Hogan was underutilized, mostly because of his ineffectiveness. Stanford was tied or losing for the last 27 minutes and 57 seconds. Yet during that time, Hogan attempted only seven passes. He completed four for 77 yards and an interception. Stanford cannot afford turnovers when it is coming back. Each possession is precious.