In August, Michigan State struggled to beat Western Michigan.
Just more than four months later, the Spartans celebrated in Pasadena with a 24-20 victory in the Rose Bowl.
It wasn’t pretty, at times, and it took a second straight 300-yard passing game from Connor Cook, but the 2013 Spartans because the first team in school history to win 13 games.
Kyler Elsworth, starting in place of the suspended Max Bullough, ended Stanford’s hopes of a comeback when he stopped Ryan Hewitt on a fourth-and-1 from the Cardinal 34-yard line.
Cook was 22 of 36 passing with two touchdowns, with one going to Tony Lippett, who had 94 yards receiving.
Stanford opened quickly as Tyler Gaffney ran in from 16 yards for a touchdown to cap the first drive. Gaffney took the ball left and bounced off a shoulder tackle from Isaiah Lewis, spun and scampered in for the quick lead.
Michigan State missed an opportunity to force a turnover when Denicos Allen knocked the ball loose from Kevin Hogan on a designed run, but Lewis and Tyler Hoover failed to recover it. Stanford’s Lee Ward kept the ball by falling on it at the MSU 23. Stanford settled for a field goal four plays later to take a 10-0 lead near the end of the first.
MSU caught a break of its own to end the first quarter as Connor Cook threw a sure interception, but the Stanford linebacker Kevin Anderson dropped it and MacGarrett Kings made a leaping catch for a 14-yard gain and first down.
Cook escaped the pocket and found Pendleton for 19 on third down to extend the drive. The Spartans then took advantage of a pass interference call in the end zone as Jeremy Langford ran in from two yards out to pull MSU within 10-7 at the 10:45 mark.
After trading possessions, Michigan State punted and Stanford was called for a personal foul, pinning the Cardinal at its 8. After a false start and a stuffed run, MSU had Stanford at its 2-yard line and forced a punt.
On the second play of the drive, Cook was hit by Cardinal cornerback Usua Amanam as he tried to get rid of a screen pass to Jeremy Langford and Anderson made up for his early dropped pick and he pulled down and easy interception and ran it back 40 yards for a touchdown.
The Spartans bounced right back on a long touchdown drive keyed by a 37-yard pass to Bennie Fowler. On second-and-goal, Cook escaped the pocket with no one open and bought enough time for Trevon Pendleton to get open for a two-yard touchdown pass just before halftime.
Taking the ball to start the second half, Cook hit Bennie Fowler for a short gain, but the senior turned it up field and ran for 60 yards down to the Stanford 15. The Spartans settled for a 31-yard field goal from Michael Geiger to tie the game early in the second half.
Three plays later, Trae Waynes forced Stanford’s first turnover as he ripped a pass away from Stanford’s Michael Rector.
The teams went back and forth on a pair of drives, leading to Stanford going for it on fourth-and-3 from the MSU 36, but Denicos Allen and Kyler Elsworth stuffed Gaffney in the backfield to force a turnover on downs.
MSU put together a long drive behind Langford, but the junior fumbled at the Stanford 8-yard line.
On its next possession, Michigan State got great field position at the Stanford 27 after Kings put together a 19-yard punt return. On third-and-8, Cook hung in against the blitz and hit Lippett on a deep slant for a 24-yard touchdown and the first MSU lead of the game at 24-20.
Stanford pulled within 24-20 with a 39-yard field goal with 4:15 to go.