BOWL ROUNDUP: Michigan State leaves little doubt by winning Rose Bowl
On a confetti-covered stage atop a hallowed field, Michigan State coach Mark Dantonio managed to sum up a quarter-century of frustration, a stellar season and a tenacious bowl victory in one word.
“Completion,” he said.
With a 24-20 victory over Stanford on Wednesday night, the Spartans reached the goal set by Dantonio seven years ago. They're champions of the Rose Bowl, rulers of the Big Ten — and nobody's little brother anymore.
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, and No. 4 Michigan State held off the fifth-ranked Cardinal in the 100th Rose Bowl.
Cook also threw a touchdown pass to Trevon Pendleton, and Jeremy Langford rushed for 84 yards and a score as the Spartans overcame their first double-digit deficit of the entire season before surging ahead late and preserving the lead with stalwart defense. Michigan State finished its breakthrough season with 10 straight wins, holding off the Pac-12 champion Cardinal (11-3) for the school's first Rose Bowl victory since 1988.
“It's a special time for all Spartans, and we came here in force,” Dantonio said. “I'm very happy for our football team, the resilience we showed all season long.”
The Spartans have long labored behind Ohio State, Wisconsin and Michigan — where they're derisively called the Wolverines’ little brothers — among the Midwest's top programs, but Michigan State is in charge now.
Michigan State's FBS-best defense capped its dominant season with one more old-school performance befitting the centennial celebration of the Granddaddy of Them All. The Spartans (13-1) yielded just 159 yards in the final three quarters, and they closed it out by stopping Stanford fullback Ryan Hewitt on fourth-and-1 near midfield with 1:46 to play.
Kyler Elsworth, the fifth-year senior filling in for suspended starting linebacker Max Bullough, hurdled the pile and flew into Michigan State lore with a spectacular head-on tackle.
“When I saw their offensive linemen's stance, I knew the way to make a play was to go over the top,” said Elsworth, the game's defensive MVP. “I was hoping they would run a play like they did on their fourth down. It's a one-in-a-lifetime play. We proved we could play on the big stage on the national level.”
Tyler Gaffney ran for 91 yards and an early touchdown for Stanford, and linebacker Kevin Anderson returned an interception 40 yards for a score late in the first half.
NO. 15 UCF 52, NO. 6 BAYLOR 42: Blake Bortles threw for 301 yards and accounted for four touchdowns, Storm Johnson ran for three more scores, and No. 15 Central Florida pulled off one of the biggest upsets of the bowl season by outlasting No. 6 Baylor.
A 17-point underdog, Central Florida (12-1) didn’t back down from the Bears, racing past the nation’s top offensive team with an array of big plays. The Knights jumped out to an early 14-point lead and kept rolling, piling up 556 total yards in the highest-scoring game in Fiesta Bowl history.
Rannell Hall had four catches for 113 yards and two touchdowns, and Johnson ran for 124 yards. Bortles threw for three touchdowns on 20-for-31 passing and ran for another score.
Baylor (11-2) had a hard time keeping up with the Knights, gaining 550 total yards but losing 135 on 17 penalties. Bryce Petty ran for three touchdowns and threw for 356 yards and two more scores. Lache Seastrunk ran for 117 yards.
NEBRASKA 24, NO. 23 GEORGIA 19: Tommy Armstrong Jr. connected with Quincy Enunwa for two touchdowns, including a 99-yarder in the third quarter, and Nebraska held on to beat Georgia.
Playing in their 50th bowl, the Cornhuskers (9-4) ended a four-game losing streak against teams from the Southeastern Conference.
Nebraska did a solid job against running back Todd Gurley, who ran for 125 yards and a touchdown last year. Gurley finished with 86 yards on the ground.
Gurley was more effective in the passing game, catching seven passes for 97 yards and a score. His 25-yard scoring receptions on the first play of the fourth quarter cut Nebraska’s lead to 24-19.
CAPITAL ONE BOWL
NO. 8 SOUTH CAROLINA 34, NO. 19 WISCONSIN 24: Connor Shaw was responsible for five touchdowns, including three passing, and South Carolina (11-2) outlasted Wisconsin.
The senior was selected the game MVP after picking apart the Badgers’ defense, completing 22 of 25 passes for 312 yards. Shaw also had rushing and receiving scores. Bruce Ellington caught six passes for 140 yards and two touchdowns.
The Badgers (9-4) lost their fourth straight bowl game, failing to capitalize on 100-yard rushing games from both Melvin Gordon and James White, and struggling after quarterback Joel Stave left in the third quarter with a shoulder injury.
NO. 14 LSU 21, IOWA 14: Jeremy Hill ran for 216 yards and two touchdowns, helping LSU and inexperienced quarterback Anthony Jennings hold off Iowa. Craig Loston’s fourth-quarter interception stopped a potential tying drive, giving Hill a chance to put the game out of reach by carrying four times for 87 yards on a 92-yard march that gave LSU (10-3) a 21-7 lead.
Iowa (8-5) pulled within a touchdown after Jordan Cotton returned the ensuing kickoff to the Tigers 4.
Jennings rushed for one touchdown, but the freshman threw for only 82 yards and was intercepted once and sacked four times while standing in for the injured Zach Mettenberger in his first college start.
C.J. Beathard replaced Jake Rudock at quarterback for Iowa on the first play of the fourth quarter. His fourth-down interception stopped one promising drive, but he also tossed a 4-yard touchdown pass to Kevonte Martin-Manley that cut it 21-14 with 1:42 remaining.
HEART OF DALLAS BOWL
NORTH TEXAS 36, UNLV 14: Derek Thompson threw for 256 yards and two touchdowns, Brelan Chancellor scored twice and North Texas (9-4) dominated the second half to beat UNLV (7-6). Both of Chancellor’s touchdown runs came in the fourth quarter after he keyed the go-ahead scoring drive in the third with some nifty footwork on a first-down catch. He had 121 yards combined rushing and receiving.