Stanford Football: Mark Dantonio

Stanford beaten at its own game

January, 2, 2014
Jan 2
12:15
AM ET


PASADENA, Calif. -- The advance billing for the 100th edition of the Rose Bowl Game presented by VIZIO played the Stanford-Michigan State matchup as a battle of shared football philosophies: two physical, line-of-scrimmage teams that run the ball and play to their stout defenses. In some ways, the media saw this as twin brothers going eyeball to eyeball for a potentially captivating barroom donnybrook.

The general feeling also was that Stanford was the more formidable brawler, mostly because it was more proven and battled tested, having emerged from the rugged Pac-12 as a BCS bowl participant four consecutive seasons.

Yet it was Michigan State that took control, made poised adjustments and imposed its will in a 24-20 victory. Stanford got, well, out-Stanford-ed. It's likely more than a few Pac-12 coaches, players and fans thought, "See … now you know what it feels like to get pushed around."

[+] EnlargeMichigan State
Kevork Djansezian/Getty ImagesStanford's Ryan Hewitt is stopped on fourth down by the Michigan State defense.
Stanford has now lost eight games over the past four years, but only a couple of times could you say its offensive line lost the battle at the point of attack.

"Push came to shove, we sort of started shoving back a little bit really," Michigan State coach Mark Dantonio said.

The Cardinal jumped out to early 10-0 and 17-7 leads, but the Spartans scored a touchdown just before the break, capping a 75-yard drive, and then dominated the second half. Stanford rushed for 162 yards, twice what the Spartans yielded this season, but 47 yards of that came on one play and the Cardinal had just 71 yards rushing on 27 carries over the final three quarters.

Stanford was 0-for-2 on fourth-and-short plays. Both times, it tried to run right at Michigan State and failed to get a decisive push, the most notable being fullback Ryan Hewitt getting stopped for no gain on fourth-and-2 at the Cardinal 34-yard line on its final possession.

There's no more straightforward measure of contesting teams' physicality than an up-the-middle run on fourth-and-short, and the Spartans won that battle. This was a point, by the way, Stanford's locker room repeatedly and graciously acknowledged.

"Fourth-and-1 is what we preach on, what we do, what Stanford football is all about," said running back Tyler Gaffney, who was stopped earlier on a fourth-and-3 run. "You have to give it to Michigan State for stuffing that because everybody in the building knew exactly what was coming -- a run was coming up the middle -- and it was a test of wills, and they got the better of us."

Stanford couldn't run the ball after the first quarter, and it had little intermediate passing game. The tight-end-centric passing attack of the previous three years was sorely missed. It had completions of 43 and 51 yards, but Kevin Hogan passed for only 143 total yards. The Spartans load the box and play man coverage with their outstanding cornerback combination, led by Thorpe award winner Darqueze Dennard, and dare you to consistently complete downfield passing plays.

"It's a nine-man front," Stanford coach David Shaw said. "There's a whole bunch of guys in there. There's a lot of slants and twists and pinches and sometimes [running back Tyler Gaffney] snuck out a couple, made a couple of great runs, and a couple of them he didn't have an opportunity. They're that good up front. But to beat a team like that, you've got to hit more than a couple deep balls, because it's one-on-one outside."

The Cardinal repeatedly faced second- and third-and-long, ending up just 4-of-13 on third downs.

As for Stanford's defense, it mostly shut down the Michigan State running game, holding the Spartans to just 65 yards, but it yielded 332 yards passing and two touchdowns to quarterback Connor Cook, who was sacked four times but mostly eluded an aggressive pass rush.

There certainly was some "what might have been" with Cook and the Stanford defense. Though Kevin Anderson's pick-six gave the Cardinal a 17-7 lead in the second quarter, two easy interceptions were dropped, including one by Anderson. Another interception was killed by a pass-interference call.

"Michigan State played their game and we tried to play ours," Stanford defensive coordinator Derek Mason said. "I give them all the credit. We didn't get off the field enough when we needed to. We had opportunities. Two missed picks. When you don't make those plays, those lead to scores. But we don't deal in 'What ifs.' We deal in reality."

The reality of the 100th Rose Bowl is that, in a battle of twin brothers in terms of physical football, Michigan State proved the more rugged brawler this night.

Stanford played its game. It went mano-a-mano with the Spartans, but it ended up getting counted out while the Big Ten champs celebrated their first Rose Bowl victory in 26 years.
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PASADENA, Calif. -- Michigan State rallied from an early 10-point deficit to dominate the final three quarters against Stanford in the 100th edition of the Rose Bowl Game presented by VIZIO.

Here's a quick recap of the Spartans' victory.

It was over when: Middle linebacker Kyler Elsworth, replacing the suspended Max Bullough, stuffed Stanford fullback Ryan Hewitt (along with help from Shilique Calhoun and others) on fourth and-1 with 1:34 left and the ball at Stanford's 34-yard line. Stanford had used its final timeout, so Michigan State ran out the clock.

Game ball goes to: MSU quarterback Connor Cook. He had several heart-stopping throws, including one of the worst pick-sixes you'll ever see in the second quarter. But Cook once again didn't let a mistake faze him, and he displayed his tremendous skill in attacking Stanford's secondary. He recorded his second consecutive career-high passing performance (332 yards) on his second mega stage, completing 22 of 36 attempts with two touchdowns. His first two career 300-yard passing performances come in the Big Ten championship game and the Rose Bowl. Not too shabby.

Stat of the game: Stanford recorded a 43-yard pass to Michael Rector on the game's second play from scrimmage and a 47-yard Tyler Gaffney rush late in the first quarter. The Cardinal had a 51-yard pass play in the third quarter. Those three plays accounted for 141 of Stanford's 305 total yards. The Cardinal ran only nine plays for 23 yards in the second quarter, excluding a kneel-down on the final play of the half.

Stat of the game II: Michigan State became the first team to rally from a halftime deficit to win a Rose Bowl since the 2000 game, when Wisconsin erased a 9-3 Stanford lead and won 17-9 behind Ron Dayne.

What Stanford learned: The Cardinal still struggle to beat teams that can match them physically, especially up front. All those big linemen and creative formations didn't make much difference against a swarming Michigan State defense that surrendered only 11 first downs and 305 yards (mostly on three plays). Stanford learned that it wasn't a true national title contender, losing three games to teams that mirrored its style of play. And while David Shaw remains an elite coach, his conservative play calls seemed to cost his team down the stretch.

What Michigan State learned: The Spartans are an elite program led by an elite coach in Mark Dantonio and an elite staff. They have an elite quarterback in Cook. They can overcome the loss of an elite player in Bullough. Michigan State learned it can play on the biggest stages with the best teams in the country and beat them with power football. The Spartans never went off track, even after a shaky start, and made enough plays in all three phases to record one of the biggest wins in program history.
Why is Stanford going to best Michigan State in the Rose Bowl Presented by Vizio? Here are 10 reasons.

  1. Stanford has the better quarterback: Stanford QB Kevin Hogan is 15th in the nation in total QBR (80.2). Michigan State's Connor Cook is 59th (61.9). And Hogan put up those numbers against a much tougher schedule.
  2. [+] EnlargeTrent Murphy
    Steve Dykes/Getty ImagesMichigan State hasn't faced a pass rusher as talented or relentless as Stanford LB Trent Murphy.
  3. Michigan State hasn't faced a pass rusher like Trent Murphy: The Spartans only yielded 13 sacks this year, which ranked 11th in the nation. But Michigan State didn't face any pass rusher as good as Murphy -- none ranked in the nation's top 15. Murphy had 14 sacks on his own, which ranked second in the nation.
  4. Stanford has played in four consecutive BCS bowls: The Cardinal are accustomed to a big stage. This is their second consecutive Rose Bowl and fourth consecutive BCS bowl. Michigan State hasn't played in a BCS bowl game or a Rose Bowl in 26 years. Experience matters. Nerves certainly won't be an issue for Stanford.
  5. The Pac-12 is better than the Big Ten: The Pac-12 went 3-2 versus the Big Ten this year, and was widely viewed as -- at least -- the nation's second best conference behind the SEC. Playing a nine-game Pac-12 schedule means Stanford has been more battle tested against A-list foes.
  6. Michigan State doesn't have its top leader on defense: Michigan State might have the nation's best defense, and All-Big Ten linebacker Max Bullough is its unquestioned leader. But Bullough was suspended for undisclosed reasons and won't play in the Rose Bowl. That leaves a huge hole in the Spartans defense in terms of talent, experience and leadership.
  7. Michigan State hasn't faced an O-line as good as Stanford's: The Spartans own the nation's No. 1 rush defense, but it hasn't faced an offensive line as big and bad -- and NFL ready -- as Stanford's. Ohio State has a good offensive line, and it produced 273 rushing yards against the Spartans in the Big Ten championship game.
  8. The transitive property! Notre Dame beat Michigan State 17-13. Stanford beat Notre Dame 27-20. So Stanford beats Michigan State! While it should be noted that Notre Dame was at home and far more healthy against the Spartans than it was at Stanford, this is a 10-point list, and sometimes you cut corners.
  9. Shayne Skov will deliver an inspiring pre-game speech: Skov is a great player, but a nearly as important contribution to the Cardinal is his fiery leadership. He is the Cardinal's designated player for an emotional pregame speech. As a fifth-year senior, this will be his last. Count on it being highly motivating.
  10. David Shaw is an elite coach: There's a reason you keep hearing Shaw's name come up in discussions about coaching vacancies, whether at Texas or in the NFL. He's considered an elite coach who has yet to reach his ceiling. Michigan State's Mark Dantonio might well be headed in that same direction, but you'd have to give Shaw and Stanford the edge on the sidelines.
  11. The Big Ten doesn't win Rose Bowls: Since the 2000 season, Big Ten teams have gone 1-9 in the Rose Bowl. While there were a couple of guest appearances in the Pac-12's spot -- Texas, TCU -- the Big Ten's biggest problem is the Pac-12 -- Washington, USC, Oregon and Stanford. The Big Ten's last Rose Bowl win was Ohio State over Oregon following the 2009 season, and that required Buckeyes QB Terrelle Pryor playing the best game of his career.
LOS ANGELES -- Michigan State's defense is preparing vigorously for Stanford's offense as well as for life without its leader, middle linebacker Max Bullough.

Despite Bullough's shocking suspension, the standards haven't changed for the "Spartan Dawgs," who, as linebacker Denicos Allen noted Sunday, want to show everyone why they're the nation's No. 1 defense.

[+] EnlargeMax Bullough
Mike Carter/USA TODAY SportsHow will Michigan State's defense adjust without Max Bullough?
But before the Rose Bowl Game presented by VIZIO, MSU's defenders might want to set aside some time to examine Stanford's defense, specifically the way the unit adjusted without one of its best players. The Cardinal lost defensive end Ben Gardner to a season-ending torn pectoral muscle in late October.

Like Bullough, Gardner is a captain and one of the defense's top performers, racking up 4.5 sacks, 7.5 tackles for loss and eight quarterback hits, the most on the team at the time. He's so good that he earned first-team All-Pac-12 honors despite missing Stanford's final five games.

Twelve days after Gardner's injury, Stanford held Oregon's dynamic offense scoreless for three quarters in a 26-20 win. The Cardinal surrendered just 62 rush yards and 312 total yards and recorded three sacks.

Stanford's defensive statistics without Gardner weren't dramatically different than they were with Gardner. The Cardinal allowed less than 75 rush yards in four of the final five games and finished with an outstanding effort against Arizona State's explosive offense in the Pac-12 championship. Arizona State had just 14 points and 311 yards, well below its season averages (41.0 ppg, 460.8 ypg).

"You feel for your teammates, but at the same time, you have to keep your vision on what the team goal is," Stanford linebacker Shayne Skov said. "You recognize that, unfortunately, somebody is gone, is no longer an active participant, but you have to keep moving forward.

"Whenever you lose someone as talented and as important a leader and integrated into your team, as I'm sure Max was and Ben [are], you have to find ways to, not replace them, but work and make an adaptation."

The circumstances of the losses are different -- Gardner was injured and remains with his teammates for the Rose Bowl; Bullough was suspended right before the team left for California and will not attend the game. But the realities are the same: There's shock and disappointment, and then there's another tough game to play.

"I kept a coldblooded approach," Stanford linebacker Trent Murphy said, "and kept moving forward and knew there were still games to be played and work to be done. Then, at the senior banquet, [Gardner] spoke and got everyone choked up a little bit and then it was like, oh man.

"Other than that, I kept moving forward."

Stanford benefited from replacing Garnder with Henry Anderson, a senior who had earned second-team All-Pac-12 honors in 2012. Anderson suffered a knee injury in September but returned for the Oregon showdown, Stanford's first game without Gardner.

Michigan State's Kyler Elsworth isn't as decorated as Anderson, but the fifth-year senior who could start in Bullough's place brings experience and familiarity to the role. He's not Bullough in terms of system knowledge and communication -- no one is -- but he understands the scheme and the personnel around him.

"We've won because of chemistry here," Spartans coach Mark Dantonio said Sunday. "There's an opportunity for somebody else to lead."

Elsworth, primarily a special-teams player during his career, embraces that opportunity "ten-fold."

"[Stanford] lost a player, and that's an adverse situation, that's something you've got to overcome," Elsworth said. "Our team has been doing that for a while now."

He mentioned safety RJ Williamson stepping in for safety Isaiah Lewis because of injury and a targeting ejection against Northwestern, and the way the coaching staff handled Dantonio's health-related absence during the 2010 season.

"There's countless times where our team has rallied around everybody," Elsworth said, "stepped up and came into the game with the mind-set that, 'Hey, no matter what is thrown at us, we can handle it.'

"This is no different. It's another curveball. Guys have stepped up their leadership, I'm stepping up my leadership, and we're very prepared for this game."

Bowl primer: Rose Bowl

December, 20, 2013
12/20/13
9:00
AM ET
We continue our look at each of the Pac-12’s opponents during the bowl season.

Rose Bowl Game presented by Vizio
Pasadena, Calif., Jan. 1, 2 p.m. PT, ESPN
Stanford (11-2) vs. Michigan State (12-1)

Michigan State Spartans

Coach: Mark Dantonio (seventh season)
Record: 12-1, 8-0 Big Ten
Combined opponent’s record: 77-80 (.490)
Common opponents: Notre Dame handed Michigan State its only loss of the year, a 17-13 defeat in September. Stanford beat the Irish 27-20 in its regular season finale.
Leading passer: Connor Cook, 201-344 (58.4 percent) for 2,423 yards with 20 touchdowns and five interceptions.
Leading rusher: Jeremy Langford, 269-1,338 with 17 touchdowns.
Leading receiver: Bennie Fowler, 34-525 with six touchdowns.
Leading tackler: Denicos Allen, 91 tackles (15 tackles for a loss).

What to know: The Spartans enter the Rose Bowl riding a nine-game winning streak that includes a convincing win over then-No. 21 Michigan and one of the biggest upsets of the season in their 34-24 win over then-No. 2 Ohio State. The win over the Buckeyes in the Big Ten championship game snapped OSU’s streak of 24 straight wins and threw all sorts of wrenches into the BCS standings.

Michigan State is relatively healthy heading into Pasadena with little more than the run of the mill bumps and bruises.

For obvious reasons, this game is being billed as a clash of defensive titans. And it is. Michigan State has the No. 1 rush defense in the nation. Stanford is No. 3. Michigan State has the No. 4 scoring defense. Stanford is 10th. One team has a 1,300-yard rusher. The other a 1,600-yard rusher. Both value disciplined, physical line play with an emphasis on field position, ball control and ball security.

Plenty more will be written about this game from both the Pac-12 and Big Ten blogs, but the takeaway you’re going to hear is defense, defense, defense.

One thing to note offensively for the Spartans, per Big Ten blogger Adam Rittenberg, is that their wide receiving corps has improved significantly this year in reducing the number of drops. That’s helped contribute to a plus-14 turnover margin -- which is tied for seventh nationally.

Key matchup: This is the kind of game that should make Stanford head coach David Shaw all giddy. Line up one of the best offensive lines in the country against one of the best front sevens and have at it. Allen is the leader. You recall his stop on OSU’s Braxton Miller on fourth down in the conference title game, but he’s got an outstanding supporting cast around him. Both teams will try to establish a rushing attack. As far as line play goes, this one should be the highlight of the entire bowl season.

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