PASADENA -- The tougher team won the 100th Rose Bowl, and it wasn't Stanford.
The Cardinal, which used brute force and power football to become one of the nation's most successful programs, was outplayed at the line of scrimmage in a 24-20 loss to Michigan State on Wednesday before an announced crowd of 95,173.
Stanford scored just one offensive touchdown and gained nearly half its yards on three long plays.
Otherwise, the Cardinal was stuffed at every turn, unable to convert downfield passes or jump-start its vaunted running game.
Tailback Tyler Gaffney rushed for 91 yards, of which 47 came on one run.
"They're one of the best defenses in the nation,'' Stanford All-American guard David Yankey said of the Spartans, "and they proved it on every play.''
The game ended in fitting fashion: Facing fourth-and-1 with less than two minutes remaining, the Cardinal went to its jumbo formation with extra linemen -- an alignment that has worked time and time again over the years.
But fullback Ryan Hewitt was stopped cold, and the No. 4 Spartans (13-1) took over, took a knee and started celebrating.
"We had one heck of a year and got beat today,'' Stanford coach David Shaw said. "They played better. They made more plays. That's the bottom line.''
The loss prevented fifth-ranked Stanford (11-3) from joining the shortlist of programs that have won back-to-back Rose Bowls since the modern configuration of the Pac-12 took shape more than three decades ago.
It also signaled the end of an era: This was the final game for the Cardinal's emotional core -- the players who helped fuel its rise to prominence: linebackers Shayne Skov and Trent Murphy, injured end Ben Gardner, Hewitt, Gaffney and Yankey, who is expected to enter the NFL.
"You fight all season to get to these moments,'' Skov said. "To lose is incredibly difficult. We're happy with the way we played, but it definitely hurts.''
The game lived up to its billing as a collision of old-school teams with a preference for rugged defense and power running.
Stanford, a 61/2-point favorite, scored on its first possession and built a 17-7 lead late in the second quarter on linebacker Kevin Anderson's 40-yard interception return for a touchdown.
But the Spartans rallied with a touchdown before halftime, then converted the tying field goal early in the third quarter.
They took the lead on a 25-yard touchdown strike from quarterback Connor Cook to receiver Tony Lippett with 13:22 left.
"I don't want to say we were tourists in the first half, but we didn't have our flash, the emotions we usually have,'' said MSU coach Mark Dantonio, whose team was making its first Rose Bowl appearance in 26 years.
"But like we always have, we collected ourselves.''
Stanford's last two possessions will no doubt prove a source of frustration for coaches, players and fans alike.
Trailing by a touchdown, the Cardinal faced fourth-and-5 in the red zone. Shaw opted for a field goal, but a bobbled snap set off a chaotic sequence in which holder Ben Rhyne scrambled to his right and completed a first-down pass to Murphy -- except it wasn't.
An ineligible-receiver penalty nullified the gain, and Jordan Williamson booted a 39-yard field goal to pull Stanford within 24-20.
The defense forced a punt, and Stanford took over at the 25 with three minutes left. (It was without receiver Ty Montgomery, who had injured his knee earlier in the quarter.) Two running plays yielded 8 yards.
"They get in the backfield right away, and that immediately disrupts the run,'' Gaffney said. "It leaves me no space to figure something out."
Third-and-2: Gaffney gained 1 yard.
"They're big and strong,'' he said. "When I lower a shoulder, I'm not getting too much.''
Fourth-and-1: Stanford inserted its jumbo formation -- nearly 3,000 pounds of power.
"It looked initially like we were going to get the push,'' Shaw said.
"And then we got stopped."
Purdy: Cardinal hits a brick wall.
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