With the game on the line, Michigan State linebacker Kyler Elsworth launched himself into history – literally.
Elsworth, who was in his first start, leaped over his defensive line and stopped Stanford fullback Ryan Hewitt from converting on fourth down with less than 2 minutes remaining, securing Michigan State’s 24-20 win in the Rose Bowl.
It was Michigan State’s first appearance and win in the illustrious BCS bowl game since 1988. Coming into the game, the Big Ten Conference was 1-9 in the Rose Bowl since 2000.
“All week in practice we’ve been talking about when they get all their big guys in there, the backside guys, it would be tough to make a play unless you launch yourself, go over the top,” said Elsworth, who was starting in place of defensive leader Max Bullough, who was suspended for the game. “When I saw their offensive lineman stance real close splits and they were going to take the defensive line’s knees out, the only play I knew I was going to be able to make was to go over the top. I was fortunate to be in the right place at the right time and couldn’t be happier.”
Michigan State rallied from a 17-14 halftime deficit dominating the Stanford offense in the second half. It limited the Cardinal to 305 yards of total offense, just 11 first downs and held quarterback Kevin Hogan to just 143 passing yards.
Elsworth’s play came after Stanford had cut the Spartan’s lead to 24-20 and Michigan State had gone three-and-out, giving the ball back to the Cardinal on the Stanford 25-yard line with 3 minutes remaining.
Michigan State’s defense struggled early. Stanford drove 77 yards on its opening drive of the game to take a 7-0 lead and then went up 10-0 at the end of the first quarter. The third Cardinal score was a pick-6.
After the first quarter, the Michigan State defense, which is the best in the country, seemed to settle down. It held Hogan in check and clogged up the middle of the field in the running game. In fact, the Spartans were so stout up front that it was surprising Stanford decided to try a play up the middle on its final fourth down play. Had Hogan kept the ball on a bootleg, given it to running back Tyler Gaffney, who could have kicked it outside, or just thrown a pass, it would have been nothing but green grass for the Cardinal.
But that play was a summary of the second half. Michigan State watched how Stanford lined up on the fourth down play and called a timeout. Then it made an adjustment. Stanford never did.
Stanford’s offensive line is hailed as the best in the country, but given the way Michigan State had been blocking the Cardinal offensive linemen off the ball nearly all game, Stanford would have been better off getting a little more creative with its play calling.
But because Stanford didn’t get creative it gave Elsworth, who spent almost all of his free time – including missing several team functions while in California - studying film on the Cardinal a chance to be an unlikely hero. When he saw the Cardinal offense line up, he knew exactly what to expect.
And he executed perfectly.
- - - - - - -