The BCS No. 10 Michigan State Spartans built an early lead and did enough to hold on in beating the second-ranked Ohio State Buckeyes 34-24 in the Big Ten Championship at Indianapolis' Lucas Oil Stadium on Saturday.
This landmark triumph dashed the Buckeyes' BCS national title hopes and will send the Spartans to Pasadena for the Rose Bowl for the first time in a long while, per ESPN Stats & Info:
Michigan State will play in the Rose Bowl for the 1st time since Jan. 1, 1988.— ESPN Stats & Info (@ESPNStatsInfo) December 8, 2013
Everything seemed to be going Sparty's way from the beginning as head coach Mark Dantonio saw his defense stifle the Buckeyes in the early going en route to a 17-0 lead.
However, an offensive onslaught by Ohio State led by quarterback Braxton Miller and running back Carlos Hyde turned the tide in the Buckeyes' favor, giving them a lead as late as the fourth quarter.
Connor Cook had an amazing game for the Spartans in winning MVP honors, throwing for a career-high 304 yards and three touchdowns. Running back Jeremy Langford provided solid balance, running for his 17th touchdown of the season to ice it with 2:16 left.
Michigan State controlled the ball in the first quarter and racked up 10:55 in time of possession, but had only three points to show for it. The Spartans then gave the ball back to Ohio State after the first play in the second quarter—but not before Cook hit Keith Mumphery for a 72-yard touchdown.
Another nice stand by the Spartans, who were ranked No. 1 in total defense entering this game, gave it back to Cook and Co. That led to a five-play, 66-yard drive, where Cook found junior receiver Tony Lippett for a 33-yard touchdown connection.
MSU's Connor Cook has impressed with his poise. Lobbed a perfect 33-yard TD pass. Bad night for OSU secondary. MSU leads 17-0.— Pete Thamel (@SIPeteThamel) December 8, 2013
Miller had seen enough and took matters into his own hands, scampering for a 48-yard gain from deep in Buckeye territory.
That run galvanized the entire Buckeyes team, and Miller found Philly Brown for a 20-yard TD toss to cut the deficit to 17-7.
From there, it was the Buckeyes who established more of a physical tone. A clutch 36-yard completion to tight end Jeff Heuerman with seconds left in the half set up Drew Basil for a 28-yard field goal. That made it a 17-10 lead for Sparty at the break.
Right out of the locker room, Miller and Co. flourished.
The junior signal-caller ran it in from eight yards out to tie things up, and then Cook was intercepted by C.J. Barnett on the next Spartans possession. That led to Miller's second trip to pay dirt on the ground from six yards out, giving OSU its first lead.
But the scrappy Spartans weren't done fighting, as Langford ripped off a 34-yard run to help set up a field goal, and Cook led an amazing fourth-quarter drive to put Michigan State back on top.
Cook rolled right on a third down and found freshman tight end Josiah Price wide open on the back side, lobbing it to him for a nine-yard TD and a 27-24 Spartans advantage with 11:41 remaining in the game.
Connor Cook hits Josiah Price for a 9 yard TD! Michigan St. 27, Ohio St., 24 in the 4th quarter! #B1GChampionship— FOX College Football (@CFBONFOX) December 8, 2013
Then Dantonio rolled the dice by attempting an onside kick, which trickled out of bounds after a scramble that saw the bold decision nearly pay off for Michigan State.
Miller didn't make the Spartans pay for the generous field position, but a blocked punt put Ohio State in range to tie things up later in the quarter. After being stopped short on 3rd-and-3, another fourth-down quarterback run was stuffed.
When Langford broke through the heart of the OSU defense to run 26 yards to the end zone, there was no hope for a Buckeyes comeback.
ESPN's Jay Crawford highlighted how the Buckeyes became too one-dimensional, which had a lot to do with why they converted only one out of 10 third-down opportunities:
Congrats to Michigan state. Better all around team. Balance is a must. Buckeyes didn't have it.— Jay Crawford (@jaycrawfordespn) December 8, 2013
Brent Yarina of the Big Ten Network puts the Spartans' accomplishment into perspective:
When #Spartans kick off in Pasadena on Jan. 1, it will be 9,497 days since it last played in the Rose Bowl.— Brent Yarina (@BTNBrentYarina) December 8, 2013
After the game, Dantonio spoke about how he planned on celebrating the win:
Here is a look at some grades from some of the game's key performers, along with analysis on the impact this result has on the BCS.
Braxton Miller, QB, Ohio State: B
Some of it was sensational defense and his receivers not quite being able to come up with the big play on 50-50 balls, but Miller did not pass it well enough in the second half to keep the Spartans honest.
Braxton Miller is a phenomenal athlete, but MSU has exposed his inability to make a forward pass...— Aaron Goldhammer (@HammerNation19) December 8, 2013
Miller was as electric as might be expected as a ball-carrier (21 carries, 142 yards and two touchdowns), yet he couldn't do enough through the air to outplay his much-less-accomplished counterpart in Cook.
Connor Cook, QB, Michigan State: A
The sophomore could have easily shrunk from the moment after he threw a tough interception that gave the lead and all the momentum back to OSU.
Instead, Cook stepped up and delivered in the final 15 minutes, with the touchdown toss to Price showing particular moxie and the type of play that bodes well for his future in East Lansing.
Connor Cook completes 24 of 40 for career-high 304 yards and 3 touchdowns.— Spartan Football (@MSU_Football) December 8, 2013
It was a career game on an unprecedented big stage, which has to have Cook feeling good for holding up his end after the Spartans defense has received all the hype.
Joe Rexrode of the Detroit Free Press provides this quote from Cook, who spoke about heading to the Rose Bowl:
Connor Cook gets MVP trophy and says: "We're the ones, baby! We're the ones!"— Joe Rexrode (@joerexrode) December 8, 2013
Carlos Hyde, RB, Ohio State: A
There was no doubt that Hyde exuded the necessary power and tenacity to attack Michigan State's stout front seven that was tops in the country against the run.
The Spartans allowed 2.23 yards per rush before this game, and Hyde racked up 6.6 yards per carry almost exclusively between the tackles in piling up 118 tough yards.
Hyde wasn't utilized as much late, though, because the Buckeyes fell behind and were forced to throw the ball, which they couldn't do well enough to win.
Darqueze Dennard, CB, Michigan State: A
The physical cornerback proved why he is considered a top contender to win the Jim Thorpe Award as the nation's top defensive back.
Dennard's ball skills served him well when he robbed Devin Smith of a touchdown in the end zone on what was a great throw by Miller.
He also poked away a key third-down conversion after the Spartans took the initial lead in the fourth quarter and was a menace for Buckeyes receivers all evening. Nothing was really completed in his area, and Dennard lived up to his billing.
There had to be at least a little bit of a "nothing to lose" mentality going on for the Spartans, because they could count on going to the Rose Bowl as long as they didn't get blown out in this one.
Although it is disappointing that Michigan State has a loss on its resume and can't really improve its BCS status, nothing is better than a Big Ten title at this point for the Spartans.
It doesn't even compare to the disappointment Ohio State is feeling. With the opportunity to win and likely play for the national championship against Florida State, the Buckeyes fell flat in the fourth quarter, squandering a lead they battled so hard to get.
NFL Network's Albert Breer chimed in:
Got the utmost confidence in my guys. Incredible run of 24 straight wins. But I can't say I'm totally shocked. Michigan State is real good.— Albert Breer (@AlbertBreer) December 8, 2013
The early deficit turned out to be too much for OSU to crawl out of, as head coach Urban Meyer fell to 24-1 in losing his first game as Ohio State coach.
It will be interesting to see how far the Buckeyes fall in the BCS, and what bowl they will play in after blowing a chance at a prospective battle with the Seminoles for the Coaches' Trophy.
Note: Team statistics are courtesy of NCAA.com.