INDIANAPOLIS – Michigan State coach Mark Dantonio stood up at the team banquet early last December and predicted his 2013 team would be “The One.”
Outsiders could have been forgiven for laughing. The Spartans had just finished the regular season 6-6, defeating the Gophers to squeak into a bowl game. Michigan State hadn’t reached the Rose Bowl since 1988, and this was going to be the team to do it?
By Saturday night, Dantonio’s pipe dream was a reality, as the No. 10 Spartans used three touchdown passes from Connor Cook to upset No. 2 Ohio State 34-24 at Lucas Oil Stadium, dashing the Buckeyes’ BCS championship hopes in the process.
“I live for my players, and they made a lifetime moment for all of us tonight,” Dantonio said. “Our fans, and our players — it’ll be something we’ll never forget, and that’s why you coach.”
It was a game of huge swings, as Michigan State scored the first 17 points and the last 17 points, with Ohio State scoring 24 in between. Cook completed 24 of 40 passes for 304 yards, earning MVP honors, and Jeremy Langford added 24 carries for 128 yards.
Michigan State (12-1) will meet Stanford in the Rose Bowl on Jan. 1. Ohio State (12-1) still seems like a good bet to earn a BCS at-large berth and could wind up in the Orange Bowl, when the bowl pairings are announced Sunday.
With two Big Ten teams probably landing in BCS bowls, the Gophers are likely headed to the Texas Bowl in Houston on Dec. 27. Had Ohio State won, the Gophers could have fallen to the Heart of Dallas Bowl.
The BCS title game almost surely will pit Florida State against Auburn. Even when the Buckeyes were undefeated, critics doubted whether they belonged in the BCS Championship Game over a one-loss SEC champion. Saturday confirmed those doubts.
Buckeyes quarterback Braxton Miller rushed for 142 yards and two TDs and completed eight of 21 passes for 101 yards and another touchdown. Carlos Hyde carried just 18 times for 118 yards.
Ohio State’s 24-game winning streak was the longest for a Big Ten team since Michigan won 25 in a row between 1946 and 1949. “It’s going to haunt all of us for a little while, but it’s part of the game,” Ohio State coach Urban Meyer said.
Michigan State men’s basketball coach Tom Izzo and his team made the four-hour bus ride to Indianapolis from East Lansing, but about 65 percent of the fans in the near-full stadium were wearing Ohio State’s scarlet and gray.
Bu that group was awfully quiet midway through the second quarter, when Michigan State led 17-0.
It was a stunning development, as Ohio State played its first scoreless first quarter since Oct. 27, 2012. Michigan State showed why it came in with the nation’s top defense. The Buckeyes had to punt on their first three drives, rushing 10 times for just 16 yards.
Meanwhile, Cook threw two touchdown passes — a 72-yarder to a wide open Keith Mumphery and a 33-yarder down the sideline to Tony Lippett. The Spartans gained just 15 yards on 15 carries in the first half, but Cook made the difference through the air.
Ohio State came in ranked third in the nation in scoring offense, at 48.2 points per game, but the Buckeyes looked completely out of sorts.
“We can do things a little better,” Meyer said. “But I don’t want to take anything away from our opponent because that’s a heck of a team.”
After Ohio State took its 24-17 lead with 5:36 remaining in the third quarter, it looked like the Buckeyes might cruise into the BCS title game. But the Spartans halted the momentum with a 44-yard field goal by Michael Geiger.
“That was the turning point,” Dantonio said.
On its next possession, Michigan State drove 90 yards for the go-ahead score, with Cook hitting tight end Josiah Price with a 9-yard touchdown pass with 11:41 remaining.
The Spartans defense stopped Ohio State on fourth down — with Denicos Allen making a huge play to corral Miller — and Michigan State never looked back. Langford sealed the win with a 26-yard burst up the middle for a touchdown.
“I think we’ve heard people talk bad about us all year,” Cook said. “This wasn’t the first week we heard people talking negatively about us. It really didn’t affect us any way shape or form.”