Stanford QB Kevin Hogan will challenge Denicos Allen, left, Isaiah Lewis, right and the rest of the MSU defense. (Al Goldis / Associated Press)
Michigan State running game vs. Stanford run defense
After a slow start to the season, Michigan State’s offense took off behind solid offensive line play and the outstanding running of Jeremy Langford. The Spartans averaged better than 185 yards a game on the ground in conference play and Langford has run for more than 100 yards in eight straight games. However, the Cardinal is third in the nation in rush defense, allowing just 91.2 yards a game and only three players ran for more than 100 yards in a game this season. Shayne Skov and A.J. Tarpley have been tackling machines, combining for 187 stops for the Cardinal.
Michigan State passing game vs. Stanford pass defense
Despite a few hiccups early in the season, the Michigan State passing game has taken off in Big Ten play this season. Sophomore quarterback Connor Cook got better nearly every week and finished the season as a second-team All-Big Ten performer, throwing for 2,423 yards and 20 touchdowns. The receiving corps also has bounced back from a miserable 2012 season when dropped passes led to a multitude of offensive woes. Bennie Fowler and Tony Lippett have made the tough grabs while Macgarrett Kings Jr. has shown signs of being a playmaker, along with Keith Mumphery. The Cardinal is first in the Pac-12 in scoring defense, but it has allowed nearly 250 yards a game through the air and 20 touchdown passes.
Edge: Michigan State
Stanford running game vs. Michigan State run defense
The Spartans will be seeing a lot of themselves in the Cardinal attack with four of the five starting offensive linemen earning All-Pac-12 recognition. Stanford also will play multiple tight ends and hand the ball to senior Tyler Gaffney, who has scored 20 touchdowns this season and run for 1,618 yards. Michigan State, however, is the best rushing defense in the nation and allowed just two players to gain 100 yards or more in the regular season. The Spartans will have a rather large hole to fill, however, as senior middle linebacker Max Bullough has been suspended and will not play.
Stanford passing game vs. Michigan State pass defense
Cardinal quarterback Kevin Hogan is 16-2 as a starter, but he is rarely asked to win games and relies heavily on his strong offensive line and efficient running game. He has thrown for nearly 2,500 yards and 20 touchdowns and does have some weapons, including wide receiver Ty Montgomery, who has 58 catches for 937 yards and 10 touchdowns. The Spartans and the No-Fly Zone, however, have intercepted 16 passes this season and cornerback Darqueze Dennard won the Jim Thorpe Award as the top defensive back in the nation. The Spartans also have recorded 31 sacks this season, led by 7.5 from Shilique Calhoun.
Edge: Michigan State
Punter Mike Sadler has been among the best in the nation all season for the Spartans, averaging 42.3 yards a kick and downing 30 punts inside the 20-yard line. Freshman Michael Gieger has been outstanding, too, since taking over in the fourth game of the season, missing just one of 15 field goal attempts and going a perfect 8-for-8 from more than 40 yards. The Spartans saw improvement in the return game, but have yet to break a big one this season. Stanford has been effective in the kicking game as Jordan Williamson is 16-for-20 on field goals. Ty Montgomery has been outstanding in the return game, averaging 31.2 yards on kickoffs and taking two back for touchdowns.
Mark Dantonio has taken Michigan State to a bowl game in each of his seven seasons and now has the Spartans in their first BCS bowl. He has led Michigan State to at least 11 wins in three of the last four seasons and this year’s 12 victories is a school record. He is fourth all-time in wins at Michigan State with 63 and was named the Big Ten Coach of the Year. David Shaw has taken the Cardinal to a BCS game in each of his three seasons at the helm and is in his second straight Rose Bowl. He is 23-4 in three seasons and was Pac-12 Coach of the Year in both 2011 and 2012.
This might be the best game of the entire bowl season as Michigan State and Stanford are about as evenly matched as any teams in the nation. The loss of Max Bullough will certainly hurt the Spartans and expect the Cardinal to take advantage in the run game. But Michigan State should make enough plays in the passing game and be able to run the ball late in the game to pull out a closely contested battle.
Michigan State 27, Stanford 24