Tyler Gaffney

Rose Bowl champions? Sparty yes! Michigan State holds off Stanford, 24-20

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In a game full of defensive talent, it was only fitting that the deciding play in the Rose Bowl turned out to be a 4th and 1 in the final minutes of the game. The Spartans came up with the big stop as No. 5 Stanford (11-3, 7-2 Pac 12) was down four points with the game on the line. With defenders leaping over a pile at the Stanford 34-yard line, No. 4 Michigan State  (13-1, 8-0 Big Ten) stuffed fullback Ryan Hewitt for no gain, allowing the Spartans offense to run out the clock for the fourth Rose Bowl championship in program history. Michigan State held on for a 24-20 win in Pasadena.

The game was everything it was expected to be, with defenses coming up with big plays, but in this one the Michigan State offense took control of the game. Michigan State rolled up 400 yards of offense and went on a 17-0 run to come from behind and carry all of the momentum in the second half. Michigan State dug an early 10-0 hole, but Connor Cook never gave in and passed for 332 yards and a pair of touchdowns against Stanford’s defense. Cook’s fourth quarter pass to Tony Lippett from 25 yards proved to be the game winner. At the time it broke a 17-17 tie, so the game was placed in the hands of the Spartans defense, a comfortable feeling for Michigan State for sure.

Stanford looked to catch Michigan State off guard when a field goal attempt seemed to fall apart and the Cardinal completed a roll out pass for a first down, but the officials threw a flag for an illegal formation with an ineligible receiver down field amid the confusion on the play. Rather than seizing momentum and having a chance to tie things up, Stanford settled for a 39-yard field goal by Jordan Williamson to cut Michigan State’s lead to 24-20.

The Cardinal then forced the Spartans to go three-and-out with just over three minutes to play. With one last chance, the Cardinal were stopped on a fourth down with one yard to go to keep the game alive. With no timeouts, there was nothing Stanford could do but watch as Michigan State allowed the seconds to tick all the way down to triple zeros.

The win for Michigan State is just the second by a Big Ten team since 2000. Ohio State defeated Oregon in the 2010 game. The Big Ten may have suffered a 1-2 mark earlier in the day against SEC opponents, but the conference has a chance to end the bowl season on a high note if Ohio State can take down Clemson in the Orange Bowl. A pair of BCS bowl victories would help to overshadow a losing bowl season regardless of what happens. Michigan State has now also proven to be worthy of playing on the big stage, but will they be able to keep this momentum going in 2014 as the College Football Playoff era is christened?

Michigan State will enter the 2014 season as the outright defending Big Ten champions for the first time since 1988. They will do so in a new division as well. With the additions of Maryland and Rutgers next year the Big Ten is re-organizing the division line-up. Michigan State will be in the Big Ten’s East division, along with Ohio State, Michigan, Penn State, Indiana, Maryland and Rutgers. The Spartans will geta  rematch with the Buckeyes on November 8, 2014 and also travel to Oregon in mid-September. Michigan State will also renew their end-of-the-year series with Penn State. Like Stanford, Michigan State will have three offensive linemen moving on but the significant players on the offense will be in tact at the skill positions. The defense will have six senior starters to replace but the Spartans should continue being tough on defense. The good news is Mark Dantonio and his staff will be getting a nice pay upgrade, so the Spartans will have some continuity working for them.

Stanford will have some changes to work through when the Cardinal move in to 2014. The offensive line will have at least three starters to replace in addition to running back Tyler Gaffney and fullback Ryan Hewitt. The defense will also be looking for new leadership after losing a good handful of players to graduation, including linebacker Shayne Skov. The backbone of Stanford’s success the last few years has been a punishing ground game and a stiff defense (yeah, Andrew Luck was a nice asset as well), so look for David Shaw to continue with that typical formula as the Pac 12 North continues to catch up. The Pac 12 North may still be Stanford’s or Oregon’s to lose in 2014, but Washington adding Chris Petersen as a head coach should lead to the Huskies improving as well. The Cardinal will get USC at home next season but will take to the road to play Arizona State, Oregon, UCLA and Washington in addition to a non-conference match-up in South Bend, Indiana against Notre Dame.

Connor Cook serves up pick-six, but leads Spartans to late TD in first half in Rose Bowl

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As most expected, the Rose Bowl is quite the display of defense between Michigan State and Stanford. At the half of the 100th Rose Bowl Game, Stanford holds a 17-14 lead on the Spartans, thanks in part to an interception returned for a touchdown by Stanford linebacker Kevin Anderson.

Anderson took advantage of the biggest mistake fo the first half. Michigan State quarterback Connor Cook backed up in the pocket with a Stanford defender right in his face late in the first half. Perhaps trying too hard to make something happened, Cook tried to dump the football off over the defender but instead it fell in the hands of Anderson, who ran unchallenged 40 yards for the defensive touchdown.

Stanford jumped out to a 10-0 lead on Michigan State in the first quarter. Tyler Gaffney capped the game’s opening drive with a 16-yard touchdown run after bouncing to the outside after colliding with a Spartan defender head on straight ahead. Jordan Williamson added a 34-yard field goal later in the quarter for a 10-0 lead. Michigan State allowed an average of just 7.2 points in the first half of 13 games this season, including the Big Ten championship game against Ohio State.

Michigan State got things together after digging the early 10-0 hole. Jeremy Langford put the finishing touches on a 13-play drive with a short touchdown run to get the Spartans on the board and the defense continued to bring pressure on Stanford and forced the Cardinal to punt away on back-to-back drives. Late in the half Cook tossed the pick-six, but he shrugged it off and led the Spartans right back down field for a late score. This time, Cook drove the Spartans right down field and he tossed a touchdown pass to Trevon Pendleton.

Michigan State held Stanford to 168 yards of offense while racking up 229 yards when on offense. The Spartans know they could have had the lead at the half, but should feel good about what they have done so far against Stanford.

Sneak Peek: 2013 Rose Bowl

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WHO: 11-2 Stanford (Pac-12) vs. 12-1  Michigan State (Big Ten)

WHAT: The Rose Bowl (100th year)

WHERE: The Rose Bowl, Pasadena, Calif.

WHEN: Jan. 1 at 5 p.m. ET

WHY: Two power teams face off in the 100th Grandaddy of the them all, a matchup that hearkens back to the great Pac-12/Big Ten battles of old. Except instead of names like Schembechler, Hayes and McKay, it’s (David) Shaw and (Mark) Dantonio taking center stage.

These teams start with defense. Michigan State leads the nation in total defense and is in the top five in every other meaningful category. Thorpe Award winner Darqueze Dennard paces a stingy and hard hitting secondary while defensive end Shilique Calhoun leads the team with 7.5 sacks. However, the Spartans will be without third-leading tackler, linebacker Max  Bullough, who was suspended for the game.

The Spartan offense won’t be mistaken for a dynamic unit, but it has improved over the course of the season. Quarterback Connor Cook has quietly put together a fine year, throwing for 2,423 yards with 20 touchdown passes and just five picks. Running back Jeremy Langford has 1,338 yards and 17 touchdowns. This is a patient offense that doesn’t make many mistakes (just 13 turnovers on the season).

Stanford also has one of the best defenses in the country. While its statistics don’t quite match up with Michigan State’s, it also played in a conference with more dynamic offensive schemes. The Cardinal lead the nation in sacks and are led by All-American linebackers Trent Murphy and Shayne Skov. There really are no weaknesses in this unit, which is dominated by seniors.

The one advantage Stanford’s offense has over Michigan State’s is that it has been in this scenario before. Kevin Hogan led the Cardinal to the Rose Bowl championship last season, so he knows what to expect. Hogan has a penchant for playing well against ranked teams and he finished the season with 2,492 yards, 20 touchdown passes and nine interceptions, along with 306 rushing yards. But Stanford depends on a punishing ground game that is not afraid to chip away patiently with three and four yard runs. Tailback Tyler Gaffney embodied that mentality to the tune of 1,626 yards and 20 touchdowns. He’ll likely get the ball 30-plus times against the Spartans.

The Cardinal are looking for back-to-back Rose Bowl wins for the first time since the Jim Plunkett days of 1970-1971. Michigan State is looking for its first Rose Bowl title since 1988. Whichever team scores last is probably going to win.

PREDICTION: Stanford 20, Michigan State 17

Stanford throttles ASU to win its second-straight Pac-12 title

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Some teams just have other teams’ numbers.

You could certainly say that about Stanford and Arizona State. For whatever reason, the Cardinal know how to discombobulate the Sun Devils…and that’s what they did on Saturday night in the Pac-12 title game.

Tyler Gaffney rushed for 133 yards and three touchdowns and Kevin Hogan threw for 277 yards as No. 7 Stanford won its second-straight league crown with a dominating 38-14 victory over No. 11 ASU.

Stanford improves to 11-2 and becomes the fifth team to go to four-straight BCS games. Arizona State fell to 10-3 and saw its seven-game win streak snapped.

As with the earlier game this season between the two teams, this one was all Stanford from the start. The Cardinal jumped out to a 28-14 halftime lead and then cruised from there.

ASU had its chances. It took the opening possession of the third quarter and drove it 61 yards to the Stanford 13 yard line. But Zane Gonzalez missed a 31-yard field goal and the Sun Devils blew that chance to chip away at Stanford’s lead. The Cardinal promptly drove 67 yards in 11 plays and got a 30-yard field goal from Jordan Williamson to make the score 31-14.

ASU came back again. This time the Sun Devils drove 66 yards to the Cardinal nine-yard line, where it was set up with a first-and-goal. Punch it in and it may have become a game. ASU made it to the one, but couldn’t score on two consecutive plays and Stanford took over (credit Cardinal linebacker Shayne Skov for making a Levar Arrington-style leap to stop the QB sneak on third down).

To make matters worse, the Cardinal then went on a 99-yard drive to put the final nail in the coffin.

Stanford saved one of its best overall efforts of the season for its most important game. The Cardinal out-gained ASU, 517 to 311, and averaged a season-best 9.1 yards per play. The Sun Devils clearly missed its best offensive weapon, Marion Grice, who sat out the game with an injury, but nothing really seemed to go right for ASU when it mattered anyway.

Still, the future is bright for the Sun Devils. Quarterback Tyler Kelly is back next year as is explosive tailback D.J. Foster (142 combined rushing and receiving yards, 2 TDs vs. Stanford) and all-star wide out Jaelen Strong. If ASU can fill some holes on defense, it could be a regular in this title game.

As for Stanford, it’s the final hurrah for a large group of seniors who will have to be replaced, especially on defense. They’ve been the most successful senior class in school history (46-7) and are the core of the first Stanford team to repeat as conference champs since 1970-71.

With close losses to Utah and USC, though, the Cardinal will no doubt be asking “What if?” going forward.

Stanford off to great start, but Arizona State hanging around

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The first half of Saturday’s Pac-12 title game between No. 7 Stanford and No. 11 Arizona State looked at lot like the last time these two teams played.

Way back on Sept. 27, the Cardinal jumped out to a 29-0 first-half lead on their way to a 42-28 victory over the Sun Devils.

This time around, Stanford took a 28-7 lead but couldn’t quite deliver the knockout blow, as ASU kept close and went into the break down, 28-14.

The often-sputtering Cardinal offense looked sharp, totaling 301 yards and 13 touchdowns. Tyler Gaffney already has his ninth 100-yard game of the year with 107 yards and three touchdowns on 15 carries. His 69-yard touchdown run on the game’s second play opened the scoring. Kevin Hogan was 7 of 12 for 106 yards and also added 33 yards on seven carries.

Outside of a couple big plays by D.J. Foster, ASU’s offense looked like it was not ready for prime time. Foster’s 51-yard touchdown run evened the score early in the first quarter and his 65-yard catch and run of a Taylor Kelly pass gave the Sun Devils hope (those were the two longest plays against Stanford this year, by the way), but ASU will need to step it up a notch in the second half. The last time the two teams played, the Sun Devils scored 28 second-half points, so there’s a chance they could make a game of it yet.

But if ASU can’t stop Gaffney, it’s in for a long night. If nothing changes, Stanford will be heading to its second-straight Rose Bowl.