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Thursday, January 2, 2014
Stanford's offense faltered against Spartans

By Ted Miller

ESPN Stats & Information reviewed Michigan State's 24-20 win over Stanford in the Rose Bowl Game Presented by VIZIO and came up with some interesting numbers, starting with one that made the Pac-12 blog wrong again on something this bowl season.

In our 10 reasons that Sanford was going to, cough, cough, win the Rose Bowl, our No. 1 reason was that Cardinal QB Kevin Hogan being better than his Spartans counterpart Connor Cook. It didn't play out like that in the game, with Cook passing for a career-high 332 yards with two touchdowns, while Hogan passed for 143 yards with no scores.

The difference was downfield throws, something Stanford needed to hit against a Spartans defense that stacks the box against the run.

Cook completed 6 of 11 passes thrown 15 yards or longer for 152 yards and a touchdown. His six such completions were a career high. Stanford QB Kevin Hogan completed 2 of 7 passes thrown 15 yards or longer, tied for his most such incompletions in a game this season.

Telling fact: In Stanford’s last two losses, Hogan is a combined 3-for-12 on passes thrown 15 yards or longer with no touchdowns and an interception.

Without a consistent downfield threat, the Cardinal rushing attack struggled after the first quarter.

Stanford rushed for 162 yards, its second fewest in a game this season behind the 143 yards it had in the loss at Utah. The Cardinal started the game strong with 91 rushing yards in the first quarter, but managed just 71 in the final three quarters. Their 10 rushes in the game that lost yards were their most in a game since they had 10 on Nov. 8, 2008, in a loss at Oregon. They only gained 45 yards on 21 rushes inside the tackles.

Running back Tyler Gaffney had 68 rushing yards on his first five carries, including a 47-yard run in the first quarter. He finished the game with 23 rushing yards on his final 19 carries, including seven rushes that lost yards. Overall, he was first contacted in the backfield a season-high nine times, four more than his previous season-high set in the Pac-12 championship game against Arizona State.

That's a big reason why the Cardinal’s average distance to go on third down was a season-high 10.2 yards. They entered the game with an FBS-best 5.2 yards to go average on third down.

In other words, the Spartans highly-rated defense was highly-rated for a reason. It clearly won the battle with the Stanford offense.