Friday, December 13, 2002
1988 - Michigan St. 20, USC 17
By Jordan Burchette
Nearly a quarter century. That's how long the Spartans had waited since their last trip to the Rose Bowl. After 22 years of placing anywhere but first in the Big Ten, Michigan State finally made it to Pasadena to face, of all teams, USC, a team it had beaten 27-13 just four months earlier in its season opener.
But what better team than the Trojans with whom to start and end a season? The 75th Rose Bowl would prove to be a classic battle between two aged empires that rivaled the storied conflicts waged by their ancient namesakes.
|Even without their starting running back, the Trojans were able to rush for 174 yards against the nation's No. 1 rush defense.|
Southern Cal quarterback Rodney Peete was to use USC's 25th appearance in the Rose Bowl not only as redemption for the early season defeat, but as the foundation for his 1989 Heisman campaign. However, on this freaky Friday, fate would deal the Spartans a trump card.
State came out strong to start the game. After a 52-yard field goal by Trojan booter Quin Rodriguez gave Southern Cal an early three-point lead, senior running back Lorenzo White shouldered a 76-yard Spartan charge downfield that culminated with his five-yard touchdown run. The fourth-place Heisman runner-up carried the ball on 10 of the drive's 15 plays, one of which was a crucial three-yard leap on fourth-and-one at the USC 18-yard line to keep the drive alive.
On the ensuing drive, Peete, feeling pressure from the Spartan front, forced a pass to Randy Tanner, but junior corner John Miller intercepted the ball at the Michigan State 30-yard line. MSU took over with quarterback Bobby McAllister breaking a streak of 20 consecutive running plays by discharging a 55-yard bomb to split end Andre Rison. The connection was one of only seven passes attempted by McAllister on the day, but it was the longest play surrendered by the Trojans' defense all season, bringing the Spartans to the USC 7-yard line. Two plays later, White once again darted into the end zone to put Michigan State up 14-3.
USC's offense simply couldn't get it started in the first half. On State's next possession, the Trojans had MSU backed up in its own end zone. The Spartans would punt, giving USC the ball at the Michigan State 37-yard line, but it took only one play for Peete to again hand the Spartans the ball, his pass picked off by junior linebacker Kurt Larson.
|A Heisman hopeful the following season, Peete threw three interceptions and was in on four fumbles for the day.|
The Spartans took their11-point lead into halftime, expecting to build upon their first half dominance. The Trojans, to the contrary, were determined to spoil State's first bowl victory in 28 years.
Southern Cal came out with voracity in the third quarter giving rise to a 33-yard pass from Peete to Ken Henry to pull the Trojans within four points.
Suddenly, it was a new ballgame, and the Spartans were slow to respond.
Struggling on offense following their second score in the first half, the Spartans had mustered only 18 yards over six possessions, leaving them empty-handed for the third quarter.
Meanwhile, USC was finding success in moving the ball on the Spartans' D, despite the absence of starting running back Steven Webster. In fact, the Trojans would go on to rush for 174 yards against the nation's top-ranked run defense. But with three minutes to go in the third, USC finally hit a stumbling block. Stopped at the 18-yard line, Southern Cal settled for a field goal attempt, however, holder Kevin McLean bungled the snap and floated a desperation lob that failed to find a target.
The Trojans would get another chance to pull within one when Rodriguez footed a 49-yarder wide. At the top of the fourth quarter, the Spartans extended their lead on the foot off kicker John Langeloh from 40 yards out, making the score 17-10.
Mistakes and missed opportunities defined Southern Cal's performance to this point, but the Trojans' fortunes would turn. Four minutes later, with USC rolling, Peete again found Henry in the back of the end zone, hitting him from 22 yards out to tie the game at 17-17.
The Spartans would respond. Forced to run from a fierce Trojan pass rush, McAllister nailed Rison for 36 yards while falling out of bounds for only his fourth completion of the afternoon. That set up a 36-yard field goal by Langeloh to again put State out in front 20-17.
|McAllister threw only seven passes the whole day, but made them count with connections of 36 and 55 yards.|
Southern Cal was now running out of options and time. With under three minutes to go in the game, Rodney Peete mounted a drive that brought the Trojans all the way to the Michigan State 30-yard line. However, the junior slinger fumbled his fourth football of the day, with free safety Todd Krumm scooping up the errant pill.
With the ball back in Peete's hands and just three seconds to go, the future NFL quarterback threw his third interception of the game, closing the book on the 75th Rose Bowl.
Michigan State made the most of its first run for the Roses in over two decades. Even now, that single trip represents their only visit of the last 34 years. The Spartan victory had greater implications than those of East Lansing, though. The win ended a seven-year win drought for the Big Ten in Rose Bowl games, which had previously favored the Pac-10 representative in 12 of the previous 13 contests.