clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

Reactions: 2015 Cotton Bowl Classic (No. 8 Michigan State v. No. 5 Baylor)

Eighth-ranked Michigan State scores 21 unanswered points in fourth quarter to overcome 20-point deficit and shock No. 5 Baylor, 42-41, in the 2015 Cotton Bowl Classic.

Tim Heitman-USA TODAY Sports

You can all admit it.

When LaQuan McGowan caught an 18-yard TD pass from Bryce Petty to put Baylor up 20 points on Michigan State late in the third quarter, thoughts to what such a lopsided loss, coupled with defensive coordinator Pat Narduzzi's move to become the head man at Pittsburgh, would do to the program entering 2015.

But as what has become known under eighth-year head coach, Mark Dantonio, the eighth-ranked Spartans showed resolve in putting forth 21 fourth-quarter points to stun No. 5 Baylor, 42-41, in the 2015 Cotton Bowl Classic to ensure the program's fourth 11th win campaign in the last five years.

The final drive Narduzzi would lead in his eight-year tenure as Dantonio's right-hand man at Michigan State and 11th year overall alongside Dantonio, was classic Narduzzi. The question was why didn't it happen earlier.

A sack of Petty from Lawrence Thomas, a combined sack from Marcus Rush and Riley Bullough and a Bullough pick of Petty on consecutive plays helped seal the comeback victory for Michigan State, which earned its fourth straight bowl victory.

Being able to overcome Petty's Cotton Bowl-record 550 yards and three TDs was one hell of a final act for Narduzzi, an act that wouldn't have happened if not for Rush's blocked field goal of Chris Callahan and R.J. Williamson's return into Baylor territory with Baylor looking to salt the game away at 41-35.

Perhaps more impressive was the resilience shown by quarterback Connor Cook to help lead the Spartans back for a victory as the program came back from a halftime deficit to win for a fourth straight bowl game.

After leading the offense on two scoring drives on their first two possessions of the game to take leads of 7-0 and 14-7, Cook struggled at times to get into much rhythm.

Cook's first interception of the game, to the Bears' Alfred Pullom, came at a bad time with the Spartans down 20 points and at the Baylor 26.

On the heels of a TD pass to Josiah Price and an onside kick recovery from the Spartans' special teams, his second pick of the game, a misguided flip on a first down from the Bears' 14 to no one in particular that was grabbed by Taylor Young, evoked memories of his miscue near the end of the first half of the 2014 Rose Bowl against Stanford.

But in similar fashion to the effort he put forth in Pasadena towards winning 2014 Rose Bowl Game Offensive MVP honors, Cook recovered by tossing the eventual game-winning TD pass to Keith Mumphery with 17 seconds remaining to put the Spartans back in the lead for the first time since R.J. Shelton's 11-yard first-quarter run put them up 14-7.

Cook finished the final game of his junior season with 314 passing yards to go with his two TDs and two interceptions.

As he prepares for his final season in 2015, he still has much to work on in regards to accuracy and the need to be smarter with the football and not make bonehead decisions.

Dantonio faces questions with Narduzzi now gone and the duo Harlon Barnett and Mike Tressel collectively being responsible for the defensive unit that Dantonio and Narduzzi have put on the map as one of the nation's best, despite giving up 136 combined points in games against Oregon, Ohio State and Baylor.

But those questions and answers will remain for another day.

All season long, Michigan State observers had been waiting and asking for the real #SpartanDawgs defense to step up.

In its two marquee games of the regular season against Oregon and Ohio State, it failed that test.

In the first three quarters against Baylor, the same problems with Oregon and Ohio State resurfaced.

But in an inspired effort that defined the 2013 defense that helped lead the program to a record 13 victories and a Rose Bowl victory, the 2014 defense, Narduzzi's final one in his eight years at Michigan State, played like its 2013 predecessors for 15 minutes in its final act of the season.

Better late than never.