The 100th edition of “The Granddaddy of Them All” was billed up to be a game that pitted two great power football teams against each other in a strength on strength battle, with the winner being forever etched into Rose Bowl history.
The game turned out to be just that, as the Stanford Cardinal and Michigan State Spartans each ran the ball feverishly early on. The Pac-12 champion Cardinal scratched and clawed their way to an early 10-0 first quarter lead behind senior running back Tyler Gaffney, who bulldozed his way through the vaunted Spartan defense for a 16 yard touchdown, before Jordan Williamson added to the total with a 34-yard field goal.
Things did not go so well for the team from East Lansing, Michigan, however. Stanford’s defensive line was able to penetrate Michigan State’s offensive line with relative ease, forcing head coach Mark Dantonio to lean more towards quarterback Connor Cook, rather than rely on running back Jeremy Langford for most of the work.
As a result, MSU’s fortunes began to turn in their favor. With 2:07 remaining in the second quarter, Cook threw an ill-advised pass which was returned for a touchdown by Stanford. Rather than folding under adversity, Cook showed great poise as he drove the Spartans down the field for a touchdown to cut the deficit to 17-14, with Michigan State set to receive the second half kickoff.
Meanwhile, Stanford could not move the ball on Michigan State to begin the third quarter. MSU turned the tables on the Cardinal in that quarter, slowing down Gaffney while Langford started to turn his game around. The bright spot for Stanford was quarterback Kevin Hogan. Hogan was efficient during the third quarter, although he could not lead Stanford to paydirt. Michigan State made a field goal to tie the game up at 17 heading into the fourth and final quarter.
The Spartans — who were seven point underdogs at kickoff — gained invaluable momentum, scoring a touchdown early in the fourth to take a 24-17 lead.
That lead would prove to be insurmountable.
Gaffney struggled mightily during the final frame, although Stanford did have a game changing opportunity late — only for that chance to go to waste due to a penalty.
Stanford briefly went the unconventional route, trying and succeeding on a fake field goal attempt which put the Cardinal close to the endzone. However, Stanford was assessed a penalty for having an ineligible receiver downfield, nullifying the conversion and forcing Williamson to try a field goal which he made to cut the deficit to 24-20.
Following key defensive stands, Stanford was set up with a very reasonable opportunity to win the game; they had the ball with just above three minutes remaining with two timeouts left. This is where the playcalling by Stanford head coach David Shaw should come into question.
Instead of giving Kevin Hogan the go-ahead to facilitate a potential game-winning drive, Shaw decided to give his running back the undeserved opportunity. As a result, the Cardinal went three and out. Gaffney ran the ball for minimal yardage twice, and was ineffective on a swing pass, leading to a fourth down and one situation. On that play, Hogan gave the ball to his fullback despite the Spartans loading the box anticipating a run play up the middle. Stanford’s attempt was unsuccessful and Michigan State won the 2014 Rose Bowl 24-20.
Michigan State deserves a lot of credit for fighting to earn the victory, although Stanford’s bad playcalling down the stretch and unwillingness to give Hogan a chance to win the game even though Gaffney was having a difficult game is partly to blame for Stanford’s loss. Who knows whether they would have actually won with Hogan leading the final drive, however that would give Stanford the best chance to become victorious. A coaches’ job is to give his team the best opportunity to win, and David Shaw did not measure up to those standards in the loss against the Spartans.