A look back MSU’s 2013 season, with a twist

Well we all know that the 2013 season ended with Spartan glory, but not many people, including Michigan State fans would have believed you if you had told them that Dantonio and Co. would win the Rose Bowl after the fourth week of the season. The Spartans had just lost a controversial game in South Bend to Tommy Rees and Notre Dame, where Andrew Maxwell led an unsuccessful final drive to end the game. The reactions were harsh and about half of the fanbase was calling for true freshman Damion Terry to take over the starting quarterback spot. It was a confusing time in East Lansing to say the least.

Redshirt sophomore Connor Cook had started the game against Notre Dame but had struggled, finishing 16 for 32 with one touchdown for 135 yards, while averaging 4.2 yards per completion. It wasn’t pretty. But it also wasn’t all his fault. No wide receiver wanted to step up and the passing game had struggled regardless of who was throwing the ball. Fortunately for MSU and its fans, Connor was able to step up after that game and the wide receivers were able to mesh with the young quarterback as the season progressed.

After that loss the Spartans won 10 games in a row, including the B1G Championship game and the Rose Bowl. In this stretch we were able to see the emergence of Connor Cook as well as the emergence of some true playmakers catching the ball for the young quarterback. Macgarrett Kings Jr. had his best game following the loss to Notre Dame at Iowa, where he caught the ball five times for 94 yards and a touchdown. In the same game Bennie Fowler had arguably his best game of the season as well, snagging nine receptions for 92 yards and a touchdown. If the game against Youngstown State wasn’t Connor Cooks coming out party, this game in Iowa surely was. Cook finished 25 of 44 for 277 yards, 2 touchdowns and one interception. Still there were fans calling for the true freshman Damion Terry. And then there was the Illinois game four weeks later where Cook finished 15 of 16 for 208 yards and 3 touchdowns. After that there were no more “We want Terry” chants. Cook was the man in the eyes of the coaches, the players and now the fans.

The momentum from the 42-3 crushing of an inferior Illinois team carried through to the next game against Michigan; not only for Connor Cook, but for the Spartan defense as well. Michigan State won 29-6, but the real story could be seen in the box score under “rushing yards” for Michigan. The number read negative 48. It was ecstasy for Spartan fans and surely a bad trip for the Wolverine fans across the country. Not to be lost in this all was a fourth 100-yard rushing game for MSU running back Jeremy Langford. Jeremy would have four more 100-yard rushing games before ending his streak at eight games in the Rose Bowl where he finished with 84 yards.

Shilique "Bane" Calhoun

Shilique “Bane” Calhoun

Now the Spartans had a quarterback that was clicking and growing with his receivers, a running back who had become a fourth quarter star and a defense that gave nightmares to opposing offensive coordinators. With all of this offensive progress the defense was for once in a long time not the most praised portion of the team. That’s not because the defense wasn’t great, it had a bit more to do with how dreadful the offense had been prior to this breakout. So, how good was this defensive unit? Well, uh, they only allowed 13.2 points per game (third in the nation) and 252 yards per game (second in the nation). They had 32 sacks and picked off 17 passes. This defense had some big names. There was captain Max Bullough, a three-year starter, two-time captain and two time All B1G first team selection (2012, 2013). Max was only the third two-time captain under coach Mark Dantonio following Greg Jones and Kirk Cousins.  Bullough finished the year ranked third on the team with 76 tackles, 9.5 for a loss of 26 yards and 1.5 sacks. The captain was not allowed to play in the Rose Bowl, which left a sour taste in some fans mouths, but honestly not in mine. Then there was Bullough’s fellow senior captain Darqueze Dennard. Most of you know how highly I thought of Dennard during his junior season and that feeling surely continued as Dennard dominated during his senior year. He became the first Spartan to win the Jim Thorpe Award, which is given to the nation’s best defensive back, as well as the first MSU cornerback to be named a unanimous first-team All-American. Dennard finished the year with 62 tackles, 1 sack, 3.5 tackles for loss, 2 forced fumbles and 4 interceptions. Oh, he was also left on an island all game, every game and created the whole #NoFlyZone concept. Finally, we can not forget about Shilique Calhoun or “Bane,” his nickname for the year. Shilique finished his monster year with 37 tackles, 14 tackles for loss, 7.5 sacks and 3 amazing defensive touchdowns. Along with this stat line, the redshirt sophomore was named the Smith-Brown B1G defensive lineman of the year as well as earning multiple second team All-American honors.

With a growing offense and this dominant defense, the Spartans won their final three games and found themselves facing an undefeated Ohio State game in the B1G Championship game. Urban Meyer and co. looked like they may have been looking ahead a bit, but a quick 17-point slap to the face from the Spartans surely woke the Buckeyes up. Ohio State responded with a 24-point swing of their own and Ohio State took the lead in the third quarter. Like they had to start the game, Michigan State rallied off another 17-point swing to win the B1G Championship game 34-24 and end Ohio State’s National Championship dreams (you’re welcome Auburn). The victory was all too sweet and the Spartans were surely smelling roses.

But here is where the season review twist sets in, I was lucky enough to go to the Rose Bowl, so we will get to see this portion of the season through my eyes and surely my phones camera… I was studying for my first law school finals in the MSU law library the day of the B1G title game and had made a deal with my study partner to come in early in hopes that we could end our studying a bit earlier than normal, so that I could watch the championship game. I rushed home after spending at least 8 hours in that library, but still managed to miss a few minutes of the game. You know the rest and because I wasn’t there, I wont force you to listen to my experience as I watched it on television.  Back to the Rose Bowl part of the season: following the B1G title win I called my mom and told her to book me a flight to LA. I was going. The Spartans hadn’t been to a Rose Bowl in my lifetime, how could I not go? It didn’t matter if I was walking, biking, driving or flying; I was getting to Pasadena. Fortunately I was an alumni ticket holder and was able to purchase one ticket (though I had two season tickets) through the Spartan ticket office for a reasonable price. The plane ticket on the other hand was not as reasonable and included a lovely layover packed trip to LAX.

Layover in Seattle

Layover in Seattle

Lets be honest, do you think I cared about layovers? No. No, I did not. This was a trip I did not know I would ever be able to make growing up a Michigan State fan and I am not sure anything could have ruined it. Even if MSU had gotten killed in the game I would have had a blast. Fortunately they did not, which makes this trip all the more magical. Back to the whole getting to LA part: luckily for me, I had a good friend who had just moved out to LA and had an apartment in which I could stay for the week. Though he was working during the weekdays, he showed me the time of my life all for the astounding price of 0 dollars (thank you Josh). Another friend of ours had made the trip as well and we picked up our tickets together and found a ride to Pasadena from LA the morning of the game.

Because I went out there with no plan other than to wing my way to Pasadena the day of the game, I was extremely lucky throughout this trip. Robert’s (my other friend who made the trip) roommate was staying 30 minutes away at his sister’s place and was allowed to use her car for the game. We were lucky enough to catch a ride as well as some McDonalds breakfast from him and his girlfriend as we left for Pasadena around 7 AM and I filled myself with some breakfast burritos. I had written a preview of the game the night before, predicting that the Spartans would win 24-20 (luckily getting the actual score right), but honestly this day was all bliss. We got there an hour or so later and walked from the parking lot to the parade, which seemed like it was 15 miles from the stadium (it wasn’t) and were able to see the Spartan marching band as well as the floats pass us by. Were cheap, so no, we did not sit in the bleachers; we found a random street that wasn’t blocked off by the police and snuck our way down it through the parked busses. At this point I was sober. Well of course I got drunk and of course it wasn’t too drunk to remember the game, or maybe that’s why I took so many pictures…  Back to game day: after the parade we made the 15 mile hike back

to the parking lot to tailgate a bit before we headed into the stadium. Again, of course we did not have tickets to the official tailgate, those cost money, money we didn’t have or weren’t willing to spend. After looking around for about 20 minutes and taking some pictures we found a great spot with about 50 other MSU fans where we partied before making our way to our seats.

We get into the Rose Bowl and wouldn’t you know it? They served beer. So of course we each had to buy two beers, I mean it was alcohol during a Michigan State football game; this was almost as rare as a trip to the Rose Bowl. Now did I drink both of those beers? Probably not, but I sure felt like I had to buy them. The atmosphere in the MSU student section was surreal, as was the entire game. It gives me goosebumps just writing or thinking about it.  Stanford started off strong, taking a 10 nothing lead but I honestly wasn’t worried; maybe that was the alcohol thinking for me. A few minutes after Michigan State went down 10-0, Jeremy Langford found his way to the endzone and made it 10-7; the student section went absolutely nuts. I haven’t been in a moshpit, but the touchdown celebrations surely had to be reminiscent of a moshpit; there were bodies flying everywhere.

Later in the second quarter Connor Cook made a mistake that resulted in a 40 yard INT return for a touchdown by Kevin Anderson. The student section buried their faces in their hands. Less than two minutes later there was another moshpit as the Spartans scored and made it a 17-14 ballgame at the half. We were pumped up, the comeback was on and there was a ton of hope for the green and white. At this point I needed a hotdog and some form of non-alcoholic beverage; I decided on a sprite (for those wondering). As I waited in the line for my wiener and soda, I met a young boy who had a white painted face and painted red hair. After talking to him for a bit and complimenting him on his style, I talked to his grandfather who he was with. As it turns out, this was Tyler Gaffney’s  (Standford’s running back) cousin and grandfather. We talked about Tyler’s great season, the fact that he was a terrific baseball player as well and how he choose to play football instead of trying to play pro baseball. Tyler was selected in the 24th round of the 2012 MLB draft by the Pittsburgh Pirates and he had a hell of a first half against the Spartan defense.

After getting my hotdog and sprite I was able to make it back in time to see Stanford’s sad excuse of a marching band perform (I mean seriously, what is that) before the game started back up. Michael Geiger kicked a 31-yard field goal a few minutes into the second half and we were all tied at 17. A quarter later Tony Lippett engraved himself into Spartan history, hauling in a 25-yard pass from Connor Cook to take a 24-17 lead and again there was a moshpit behind the endzone. Lippett had an amazing game, grabbing 5 receptions for 94 yards and that touchdown. Connor Cook had a pretty amazing game himself, finishing 22 for 36 for 332 yards, a touchdown and an interception.

Stanford kicked a field goal with about four minutes left. MSU got the ball with 4:15 remaining but only ran off a minute and nine seconds before giving it back to Standford with 3:06 left in the game. And here is where the magic happened; the game came down to one play. It was 4th and 1 with less than two minutes and if MSU stopped them, the game was over. The ball is snapped, faked and handed to Ryan Hewitt who tries to go up the middle but is met by a flying Kyler Elsworth and Darien Harris. No gain. Spartans win. The moshpit of all moshpits breaks out in the student section and I am just stuck there, hands on my head, not believing what I just saw. Did that really just happen? Was there a more perfect way for this team to win a Rose Bowl than a 4th and 1 stuff? Were these tears running down my face? What the hell just happened? Is that Rich Homie Quan I hear? (yes, of course as I am writing this I just went to youtube and started playing “Type of way.”)

Video of the final play taken by Robert

As everything around me moved, there I was, stuck in the moment. This was something all Spartan fans had dreamed of for quite some time and there I was experiencing it live. I cant put that feeling into words. We stood there as the confetti fell to the grass while Dantonio raised the trophy. The defensive backs came to the endzone with a #NoFlyZone banner and the student section continued its’ mosh. An hour or so after that final play, we made our way out of the stadium and back to the car. Robert and I were waiting at the car for a bit by ourselves, so we decided to bump “Type of way,” and he popped a bottle of champagne (of course I had a sip or two). I am sure you all have your own stories from that day, but that was mine and I wouldn’t trade it for a thing in the world.

About Will Nahikian- @SpartanWilliam