As I moved down to the front row to watch the post-game celebration, I found myself next to Joel Foreman. Otis Wiley made his way over at some point. Travis Key was on the BTN set before the game.
Saturday's 34-24 win over Ohio State was for this year's team, but it was a culmination of a lot of work by a lot of people. In winter 2006, Mark Dantonio took over a program in shambles and just waiting for the next collapse to come. I've long maintained that the win over Penn State in the 2007 regular season finale was the most important of the Dantonio era. MSU needed to win its final two games to reach a bowl, and it did, the first sign that things were going to be different.
There's now a new game at the top of that list.
When Ohio State went up 24-17, I started to wonder if Ohio State was looking impressive enough. Was MSU going to lose and miss out on the Rose Bowl because the Buckeyes would be jumped by Auburn?
But, as they've always done since 2007, the Spartans fought back. They re-took the lead, they shut down Ohio State's prolific offense the rest of the way and Jeremy Langford put another game in the books.
MSU is no longer just another Big Ten team. The Spartans went from No. 10 to being put in everyone's hypothetical top four playoff. Respect: earned. Since 2010, they've won 11 games three times — including a school-record 12 this season — with two division championships and two Big Ten championships. A Rose Bowl appearance is a few weeks away.
When Mark Dantonio was hired, he needed to bring stability and a foundation to program that never had it for long stretches. Now they've broken through the glass ceiling weighing on the program for decades. Saturday's win was for everyone.
If there was a playoff, it looks like MSU would have been in it. But this is the 100th Rose Bowl. It will be the last Rose Bowl as we know it. The was the final chance for that special moment.
Looking back at my keys to the game.
Convert third downs - MSU went 5-for-15. Not great, but MSU went 3-for-4 in the fourth quarter to complete the comeback and put the game away.
Shorten the game - On the other side of the third down game, Ohio State went 1-for-10. In the end, MSU had 13 possessions. It had a few time-consuming drives to keep the Ohio State offense off the field, the best way to stop it.
Stop Carlos Hyde - He finished with 18 carries for 118 yards (6.6 YPA) and a long of 18. In the middle of the game, when the Buckeyes scored 24 straight, Hyde was the biggest reason, gashing the defense on first and second down. That opened up Braxton Miller to run on the outside. When MSU started stopping Hyde on early downs, the Buckeyes couldn't convert the third downs.
For Ohio State:
Big plays - Braxton Miller had a couple long runs, which resulted in Ohio State scores. But the longest completion was 36 yards to a tight end leading to the field goal before halftime. There were a number of deep shots that were either dropped, fell incomplete or defended well. Consider this a win for MSU.
Force MSU into passing downs - The Buckeyes did a great job stopping MSU's running game on early downs. As a result, MSU started passing more on first down (and succeeding). But MSU picked up the third downs at the end to get the win.
Turnovers - No giveaways from the Buckeyes and one interception of Connor Cook. The thing is, they probably should have had a few more interceptions. Could have made a huge difference.
Now, looking at all sides of the ball.
I think this says it all.
From the backup on opening night, completing less than 50 percent of his passes, to Big Ten 2nd Team and 300 yards and the Big Ten Championship Game MVP. It's been said a lot, but it's amazing to see Cook's development. He always makes the right read. His footwork has improved, but he still tries to make too difficult throws sometimes. But hey, you have to like the aggressiveness. It serves him well. And he's just a sophomore, folks.
The running game was completely shut down early, but, as has become the norm, Jeremy Langford gets better as the defense wears down, and he had another patented TD run in the fourth quarter to put the game away. He finished with 24 carries for 128 yards, (5.3). Those are pretty amazing numbers, given the start. Eighth straight 100-yard game for Langford.
No drops that I can recall from the receivers. I think tight end Josiah Price had one on a third down. A number of good grabs, and everyone chipped in, with eight players making a catch. The 72-yard touchdown to Keith Mumphrey and 33-yard touchdown to Tony Lippett gave MSU the 17-0 lead in the first half. There are your explosive plays MSU doesn't get many of.
I think this was the worst offensive line performance of the season. Langford didn't have much room to work with, though Cook was kept clean, generally. #AMSUOLHG finally made an appearance at the worst time, when Dan France suffered a bad-looking injury (I couldn't tell what it was at the game). No word if France will be available for the Rose Bowl.
Early on, they played like the No. 1 defense in the country. Then, in the middle, they couldn't stop a thing, allowing 24 straight points and getting gashed play after play. But they adjusted and made the big plays in the fourth quarter, none bigger than Denicos Allen helping stop Braxton Miller on 4th-and-1.
In the end, the Buckeyes were held to 374 total yards, 273 of which came on the ground (6.8). These numbers are much higher than MSU is used to giving up, but it's also lower than Ohio State's season numbers. A once-in-a-generation unit.
Indianapolis native Isaiah Lewis, the man who committed the penalty in this situation in 2011, led MSU with 13 tackles.
Has there been a more underrated player than Michael Geiger this season? 2-for-2 on the biggest stage he's been on in his young career, including a long of 44 yards. Geiger is 14-for-15 on the season, 8-for-8 from 40+. From a true freshman.
Mike Sadler had a punt partially blocked for the second straight time against Ohio State. However....
MSU is up to No. 4 in the polls, its highest ranking since opening the 1967 season at No. 3.
In year seven, it's Mission Accomplished for Mark Dantonio.