The game was decided on this play: Stanford has the ball on a fourth-and-one play at its own 34 with less than two minutes to play.
The Cardinal used its final timeout, presumably to decide whether they would hand the ball off to the left of center or right of center.
Then Michigan State used a timeout, apparently to talk about whether Stanford would run to the left of center or the right of center.
Stanford came out in a fullhouse backfield -- the Cardinal call it their "elephant" set -- and handed the ball to Ryan Hewitt, who was carrying the ball for the first time.
He went nowhere.
It was one of many questionable play calls by Stanford in the second half.
The tackle was made by Kyler Elsworth, the fifth-year senior linebacker -- and a former walk-on -- who started the game because star linebacker Max Bullough was benched for the game after violating an undisclosed team rule.
With 1 minute 43 seconds left, No. 4 Michigan State ran out the clock for its 13th win in 14 games this season.
Fifth-ranked Stanford dropped to 11-3.
A crowd of 95,173 enjoyed mid-70s temperatures, a cloudless sky and the type of game many predicted.
It was a test of wills between Stanford's bone-crunching running game against a top-rated Michigan State defense.
The defense won.
Stanford's Tyler Gaffney ran for 91 hard-earned yards in 24 carries. But take away a 47-yard gain early in the game and he wasn't much of a factor. Stanford quarterback Kevin Hogan passed for 143 yards and ran for 41.
The game's top player on offense was Michigan State's Connor Cook. The redshirt sophomore completed 22 of 36 passes for 332 yards and two touchdowns with an interception. And while he was productive, he was also lucky. He threw at least three other passes that should have been intercepted.
Jeremy Langford led the Spartans' running attack, gaining 84 yards and scoring a touchdown in 23 carries.
Here's a recap of the game:
Stanford has cut into Michigan State's lead, but not the way it wanted.
Jordan Williamson kicked a 39-yard field goal one play after a Stanford first down was nullified on a penalty.
On fourth and five, the Cardinal faked a field goal and holder Ben Rhyne, a punter, floated a pass to tight end Davis Dudchock for an apparent first down.
But Stanford had an ineligible player downfield.
On fourth and 10, Stanford chose to try the field goal.
Attendance was 95,173 for the 100th Rose Bowl game today in Pasadena.
Michigan State fans are in the majority, and they're not only enjoying perfect weather, but also a 24-17 lead with about 10 minutes left to play in regulation.
Ben Rhyne had a great game through three quarters. He had boomed three punts for an average of 54.3 yards.
Then came his fourth punt. It was shanked and allowed Michigan State to take the lead with a three-play, 27-yard drive.
The go-ahead score came on a 25-yard pass from Connor Cook to Tony Lippett.
Cook, a redshirt sophomore, has passed for 312 yards.
Shaw runs a good college football program, and he's a smart guy. But he makes some seriously questionable play calls.
Stanford took a timeout in order to decide what to do in a fourth-and-three situation at the Michigan State 36.
The play: a handoff to Tyler Gaffney into the center of the nation's No. 1-rated defense. Result: loss of three yards. Michigan State ball.
The Spartans took it from there deep into Stanford territory, but Skov stripped Jeremy Langford of the ball and Josh Mauro recovered for the Cardinal.
As the fourth quarter begins, Michigan State has the ball deep in its own territory.
Michigan State quarterback Connor Cook has played well -- and also been lucky.
Stanford dropped one sure interception in the first half, and now Wayne Lyons dropped another on the Spartans' second possession of the second half.
Lyons' drop was near midfield. On the next play, Jordan Richards actually latched onto an interception -- which was nullified by a penalty.
Cooks has one pass intercepted -- which was returned for a touchdown.
To everyone who expected a good Rose Bowl game, you were right.
A 31-yard field goal by Michael Geiger has tied the score.
The kick was set up on a 60-yard pass play from Connor Cook to Bennie Fowler.
Cook has passed for 263 yards.
A lot of the action so far has centered around three passes thrown by Michigan State quarterback Connor Cook.
The first should have been intercepted by Stanford linebacker Kevin Anderson, but instead was tipped and grabbed by Spartans receiver Macgarrett Kings Jr., keeping alive a scoring drive.
The second, under a heavy rush, was right to Anderson again. But this time he grabbed it and rambled 40 yards for a Stanford touchdown.
The third, on the fifth play after the pick-six, went to a well-covered Bernie Fowler for a 37-yard gain to the Stanford three yard line. Two plays later, Michigan State scored its second touchdown.
Michigan State outgained Stanford, 157-22, in the second quarter after the Cardinal had a 146-72 edge in yardage in the first quarter.
Cook has completed 15 of 23 passes for 198 yards and a touchdown, with an interception.
Stanford has a 102-31 advantage in rushing yardage. Tyler Gaffney leads all rushers with 79 yards and a touchdown in 11 carries.
Give Spartans quarterback Connor Cook some credit.
He threw a horrible pass that resulted in a Stanford touchdown, then came right back and drove his team 75 yards in 1 minute 39 seconds.
On the scoring play, Cook was under a heavy rush by Stanford linebacker Joe Hemshoot when he managed to flip the ball to fullback Trevon Pendleton for a two-yard touchdown.
This time, Kevin Anderson made the catch.
The Stanford linebacker muffed an interception earlier today, setting up a Michigan State touchdown. But given a second chance, he converted in a big way.
Michigan State quarterback Connor Cook threw a pass that never should have left his hand. Under a heavy rush by Usua Amanam, who was coming on a blitz, the Spartans quarterback lofted a short pass so errant that its intended target wasn't clear.
It went right to Anderson, who caught it in stride and ran 40 yards for a touchdown.
So far, punter Ben Rhyne is Stanford's MVP.
His 54-yard punt out of the end zone sticks Michigan State back at its own 41 with 2:51 left in the first half.
Michigan State's first double-digit deficit of the season didn't last long.
Less than six minutes of game time, in fact.
The Spartans drove 75 yards in 13 plays, with quarterback Connor Cook making a couple of big plays and Michigan State enjoying a little luck before Jeremy Langford scored on a run from two yards.
The key play was a pass from Cook to Macgarrett Kings Jr. that went for a 14-yard gain that could easily have been intercepted.
But instead of making a pick, Stanford linebacker Kevin Anderson batted the ball in the air and it found Kings' hands.
Cook also connected with Tony Lippett for a 24-yard pass play, and Cook scrambled away from a heavy rush in order to find time to flip the ball to Trevon Pendleton for another key pickup of 19 yards.
Michigan State's largest deficit of the season before today was when the Spartans trailed Indiana, 7-0.
Michigan State's only loss this season was to Notre Dame by four points.
The Cardinal have outgained the Spartans, 146 yards to 72, and have a 91-16 edge in rushing yardage.
Tyler Gaffney has 67 yards in six carries.
Michigan State quareterback Connor Cook has completed five of seven passes for 56 yards.
Lee Ward hasn't carried the ball or caught a pass.
But he does have a save.
Ward, Stanford's second-string fullback, emerged from the bottom of a pile of players with the football after a fumble by quarterback Kevin Hogan.
Ward's recovery kept alive a scoring drive that resulted in a 34-yard field goal by Jordan Williamson.
The big play on the drive was a 47-yard run by Tyler Gaffey, who has 67 yards in six carries against the nation's top-rated defense.
Second punt of the game is a missle by Michigan State's Mike Sadler.
It travels 55 yards to Stanford's Barry Sanders, who returns it three yards to the Cardinal 14.
And yes, Barry Sanders is related to that Barry Sanders. He's the son of the pro football Hall of a Famer.
First punt of the game is a missle by Stanford's Ben Rhyne.
It traveled 60 yards in the air and was caught by MacGarrett Kings Jr., heading backward, at the Michigan State 25.
Kings Jr. lost three more yards on the return.
That was fast.
Stanford went right down the field on the nation's top-rated defense, driving 77 yards in seven plays.
It took 3 minutes 44 seconds.
The touchdown came on a powerhouse 16-yard run by Tyler Gaffney. It was Gaffney's third carry of the drive, and he probably has about 40 more carries in him.
The big play was a 43-yard pass from Kevin Hogan to Michael Rector.
On the touchdown, Gaffney took a squared-up hit from Michigan State's Isaiah Lewis, but he knocked the Spartans' safety back and spun off into the clear.
Did you think a Bay Area team was going to win a coin toss by Vin Scully?
Michigan State wins the toss, and defers. The Spartans will kick off.
Vin Scully to midfield for the coin toss.
What's he wearing?
A blue blazer, of course.
There's a lot of green at the Rose Bowl today -- beyond the landscape of the Arroyo Seco.
Michigan State fans are out in force. Spartans fans command about 60% of the Rose Bowl seats.
Of course, Michigan State had not played in a Rose Bowl game since 1998. Stanford played last year.
A look at some of the numbers:
Stanford averages 33.2 points; Michigan State 29.8.
Stanford gives up 18.6 points; Michigan State 12.7 (best in the nation)
Stanford averages 202.2 yards passing; Michigan State 202.5
Stanford averages 210.9 yards rushing; Michigan State 182.2
Stanford is ranked No. 5 in the Bowl Championship Series standings, Associated Press media poll and USA Today Coaches poll; Michigan State is No. 4 in those same ratings.
Stanford is 11-2; Michigan State is 12-1.
The teams' combined record of 23-3. The only bowl game that will be played between teams with 23 wins is back here at the Rose Bowl next Monday when Florida State and Auburn meet in the BCS national championship game.
Florida State and Auburn have combined for 25 wins.
The Los Angeles Times has four reporters covering today's Rose Bowl game, and their predictions are in:
Of course, Dufresne's wife is a grad, so he needs to keep peace in the house.
Gary Klein, who has been covering both Rose Bowl teams and is USC's beat reporter, also picked the Cardinal, 27-26.
Columnist Bill Dwyre also says Stanford will win, forecasting a 24-17 score.
That leaves Deputy Sports Editor Mike Hiserman gloating alone afterward. He's picking Michigan State, 17-16.
It's about an hour before the scheduled kickoff at the Rose Bowl, and if you are interested in selling now is the time to list your house.
There should be plenty of mid-Westerners ready to buy.
This is exactly the kind of Rose Bowl day that Jim Murray, the late Pulitzer Prize-winning columnist of the Los Angeles Times, partially credited for Southern California's population explosion.
There is not a cloud in the sky. The temperature is in the mid-70s, and there is just a trace of a breeze.
Meantime, weather conditions in East Lansing, Mich.: 12 degrees with light snow.
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