Connor Cook threw for a career-high 332 yards and a pair of touchdowns as he rallied Michigan State to a 24-20 victory over Stanford on Wednesday at the Rose Bowl in Pasadena.
The Spartans defense locked down on the Cardinal after allowing two scoring drives in the first quarter. Stanford continued to put itself into hazardous situations after taking a 10-0 advantage.
Cook's 25-yard touchdown toss to Tony Lippett was the go-ahead score early in the fourth quarter. Jordan Williamson kicked his second field goal of the game with 4:15 remaining.
Stanford (11-3) was stopped twice on fourth down, including one in the final two minutes that clinched it for the Spartans.
"They came off the ball and we got about a foot and a half," Stanford quarterback Kevin Hogan said. "We were six inches short."
Tyler Gaffney rushed for 91 yards and scored the game's first touchdown. He was held to 24 rushing yards in the final three quarters.
"He played a great game," Hogan said. "He hit all the runs that were there. Hats off to them for making adjustments with safety help."
Michigan State freshman Mike Geiger kicked a 31-yard field goal to tie the game at 17 early in the second quarter after the Cardinal gave up a 61-yard pass play.
Stanford made it look too easy on its opening drive. A 43-yard pass from Hogan to Mike Rector opened the field for Gaffney, who went the final 16 yards of the 7-play, 77-yard drive.
The Cardinal scored again on a 34-yard field goal by Williamson late in the first quarter. Gaffney's 47-yard jaunt helped give Stanford good field position.
Wide receiver Devon Cajuste opened the outside for Gaffney, bringing Michigan State senior cornerback Darqueze Dennard into the middle of the line while making a block.
Gaffney got outside and raced down the sideline before Dennard and linebacker Taiwan Jones eventually dragged him down.
The run nearly went for ought when Spartan Denzel Drone ripped the ball loose from Hogan on a running play. Stanford fullback Lee Ward came out of the scrum with the ball.
Stanford went into hibernation for much of the second quarter, gaining 22 offensive yards and giving up 157 yards, including two long scoring drives.
"They played better," Stanford coach David Shaw said. "They made more plays. That's the bottom line."
Only Kevin Anderson's heads up play that he turned into a 40-yard interception return for a score kept the Cardinal in front.
After the Spartans closed to within 10-7, helped in large part by a pass interference call on Wayne Lyons in the end zone on a third and goal play, Stanford made it as far as midfield before punting the ball away. Half of the six plays either lost yardage or did not gain yardage.
The Cardinal woes continued after holding Michigan State on its next possession. It started on the Spartans punt when Patrick Skov was nailed with a personal foul and Stanford was forced start on its own eight.
A false start cost Stanford another four yards and Gaffney lost two yards on an ill-advised Wildcat play, in which he took the direct snap. Gaffney made up three yards but an incomplete pass forced Ben Rhyne to punt for a third time.
That's when Anderson stepped in and saved the day, at least for the time being. He was right in the middle of what was supposed to be a screen pass. Usua Amanam pressured Cook into rushing his throw and Anderson gladly accepted the ball and raced 40 yards for the score.
The Spartans only needed 1:39 to respond with another touchdown, to close within 17-14 by halftime.