PASADENA, Calif. -- Michigan State was the underdog, and it fell behind early. However, a team built on a defense as stout as the Spartans' is never out of game.
As Stanford and the nation learned on the first day of 2014.
Down 10-0 in the first quarter, the fourth-ranked Spartans rode their defense to a 24-20 win over fifth-ranked Stanford in the 100th Rose Bowl before 95,173 enthralled fans.
In 78-degree weather that contrasted with the 11 degrees back home in East Lansing, Mich., the Spartans (13-1) wore down the Cardinal (11-3) with key stops on defense and key passes on offense.
The Spartans limited the Cardinal to 164 total yards over the final three quarters.
Michigan State sophomore quarterback Connor Cook, who earned offensive player of the game honors, completed 22 of 36 passes for 332 yards. He was intercepted once and threw two touchdown passes, the second a 25-yarder to wide receiver Tony Lippett early in the fourth quarter to break a 20-20 tie.
That score and stop on fourth-and-1 by linebacker Kyler Elsworth, subbing for the suspended Max Bullough -- at the Stanford 34 with 1:23 to go were the key plays. Elsworth was selected the defensive player of the game.
"Connor Cook is resilient," said Mark Dantonio, the Spartans coach, alluding to the quarterback bouncing back after throwing an interception that was returned for a second-quarter touchdown.
Stanford coach David Shaw said of Cook, "I thought we were able to get to him, but they made a few more plays than we could afford to give them with the downfield pass."
One of those, the second play of the third quarter, was a 60-yard pass to wide receiver Bennie Fowler. Michigan State completed the drive with a field goal for a 17-17 tie, and the Spartans never trailed again.
"We controlled the tempo of the game, especially after the first quarter," said Dantonio, who agreed to a new contract with Michigan State before the game.
Cook said, "I am lost for words. To win the 100th Rose Bowl is such a special thing."
To lose is painful, especially after a fast start.
"They're good at what they do," Shaw said of Michigan State. "They're going to give you opportunities to make big plays, and we made a couple, but it's a nine-man front. To beat a team like that you've got to hit more than a couple of deep balls.
"The style of play is similar. Two teams that play great defense, that run the ball and try to make big plays in the passing game. We didn't make enough plays for us to be on the right side."
The Spartans did.
"We just knew this was a special football team," Dantonio said.
When Stanford linebacker Kevin Anderson scored on a 40-yard interception return with 2:07 left in the second quarter, the Cardinal led 17-7. It appeared Stanford would win its second consecutive Rose Bowl.
However, Michigan State drove 75 yards in seven plays, scoring on Cook's 2-yard throw to running back Trevon Pendleton 28 seconds before halftime.
"To go into a two-minute drive and get a touchdown and to cut (the deficit) to three rather than going into the locker room down 10 was huge," Dantonio said. "I was impressed with (Stanford), but when push came to shove, we started shoving back."
Did they ever, especially late in the game. Stanford finished 4-for-13 on third-down conversions.
"They have nine in the box," said Stanford running back Tyler Gaffney, who netted a tough 91 yards and a touchdown on 24 carries. "They leave their cornerbacks out there for one-on-one coverage, and like coach said, maybe a couple more deep balls would have been helpful in the run game.
"But it came down to they just played well."
As the Spartans did all year. Michigan State went undefeated in Big Ten play, then stuck Ohio State with its first defeat in 25 games in the conference championship game.
"You know," Dantonio said, "people keep asking me, 'Does the championship feel better? All these different things, these levels of excitement. I can just tell you at every level you're so excited for our team.
"It's sort of living the dream."
NOTES: Both Rose Bowl participants were ranked in the top five nationally for the 22nd time. ... Vin Scully, the Los Angeles Dodgers' announcer since 1950, was Grand Marshal of the Rose Parade and was introduced on the field before the game. He is 86. ... The Los Angeles Times pointed out three of the southern California's biggest sports heroes, Magic Johnson, Kirk Gibson and Steve Garvey, attended Michigan State. ... Three horse races -- the Belmont Stakes (145 runnings), Kentucky Derby (139) and Preakness Stakes (138) -- and baseball's World Series (109) are the only American sporting events older than the Rose Bowl.