Michigan's Devin Gardner faced relentless pressure from Darqueze Dennard and the MSU defense in the rivalry game. (John T. Greilick / Detroit News)
Michigan State 26, Western Michigan 13
Aug. 30 at Spartan Stadium, East Lansing
The season-opener was the first sign Michigan State’s offense would struggle as Jeremy Langford’s 2-yard run in the second quarter was its only touchdown. Senior Andrew Maxwell started at quarterback but split time with Connor Cook. Neither stood out, however, as Michigan State threw for only 116 yards and the quarterback battle continued. The defense was outstanding and scored two touchdowns. The first came when linebacker Jairus Jones intercepted a pass and flipped it to Kurtis Drummond, who took it in for the score, and in the fourth quarter, end Shilique Calhoun scooped up a fumble and returned it 16 yards for a touchdown.
Michigan State 21, South Florida 6
Sept. 7 at Spartan Stadium, East Lansing
The quarterback carousel continued as Connor Cook started but shared time with Andrew Maxwell and Tyler O’Connor. It made little difference as the Spartans threw for only 94 yards and heard the crowd chanting for freshman Damion Terry to play. They managed only one touchdown for the second straight game — a 2-yard run by Jeremy Langford in the fourth quarter. The defense, once again, provided the bulk of the scoring and it all came from sophomore end Shilique Calhoun. He returned a fumble 4 yards for the score in the second quarter and broke open a tight game in the third quarter when he intercepted a tipped pass and returned it 56 yards for a touchdown.
Michigan State 55, Youngstown State 17
Sept. 14 at Spartan Stadium, East Lansing
The offense looked like world-beaters for one day, though it came against an opponent from the FCS. Connor Cook started for the second straight week and threw for four touchdowns while Tyler O’Connor also got plenty of work in the second half. The quarterback battle was not officially over, but it was the first sign that Cook had the chance to wrestle the job away from the other quarterbacks. Jeremy Langford also was starting to establish himself as the team’s top runner, scoring a pair of touchdowns. The defense continues to shine, allowing less than 200 yards of total offense for the second straight game.
Notre Dame 17, Michigan State 13
Sept. 21 at Notre Dame Stadium, South Bend, Ind.
Players and coaches point to this game as the turnaround to the season as the offense moved the ball but had trouble scoring points, and the defense was victimized by what were a handful of questionable pass interference calls. Several revelations were made in this game, including the arrival of freshman kicker Michael Geiger, who took over for senior Kevin Muma. And though Connor Cook was replaced on the final drive by Andrew Maxwell, his response moving forward was ultimately what won him the job and sparked the Spartans’ offense heading into a bye week and then the Big Ten season.
Michigan State 26, Iowa 14
Oct. 5 at Kinnick Stadium, Iowa City, Iowa
This was the day the Spartans took off offensively with Connor Cook as the permanent starter at quarterback. He threw for 277 yards and a pair of touchdowns on the same day the receiving corps shed its drop-happy ways and started becoming playmakers. Macgarrett Kings Jr. had a big day and senior Bennie Fowler, who had been removed from the starting lineup, made nine catches for 92 yards and a touchdown. Iowa entered the game averaging better than 200 yards on the ground, but Michigan State limited the Hawkeyes to just 23 rushing yards and Michael Geiger iced the game with three second-half field goals.
Michigan State 42, Indiana 28
Oct. 12 at Spartan Stadium, East Lansing
The offense continued to roll as running back Jeremy Langford went over the 100-yard mark for the first time in his career, something he would do in each game for the rest of the season. He also scored four touchdowns while splitting time with true freshman Delton Williams and became the first Spartan to score four times in a game since Edwin Baker in 2010. Tony Lippett began to prove he was a weapon in the passing game, making several tough catches and finishing with six grabs for 64 yards.
Michigan State 14, Purdue 0
Oct. 19 at Spartan Stadium, East Lansing
In what was the only real hiccup in the Spartans’ Big Ten season, Connor Cook struggled at quarterback, completing just 13 of 25 passes for 107 yards as Michigan State plodded its way to a victory over undermanned Purdue. The Spartans’ only offensive touchdown came when receiver Tony Lippett threw a 5-yard strike to tight end Andrew Gleichert on a reverse. However, Jeremy Langford was effective once again on the ground, running 24 times for 131 yards, and when Max Bullough forced a fumble by Purdue quarterback Danny Etling, Denicos Allen picked it up and went 45 yards for the touchdown.
Michigan State 42, Illinois 3
Oct. 26 at Memorial Stadium, Champaign, Ill.
Connor Cook bounced back with a record-setting performance in the blowout win over Illinois, completing 15 of 16 passes, the best completion percentage for a quarterback in Michigan State history. He also threw for three touchdowns and the running game was outstanding with Jeremy Langford gaining 104 yards and scoring twice while Delton Williams added 78 yards and a score. The defense was dominant, allowing just 25 yards rushing and only 103 through the air as the Spartans headed into their showdown with Michigan on a high note.
Michigan State 29, Michigan 6
Nov. 2 at Spartan Stadium, East Lansing
In one of the Spartans’ most dominant defensive performances, Michigan had minus-48 yards rushing and was sacked seven times as Michigan State won for the fifth time in the last six meetings between the rivals. Shilique Calhoun and Ed Davis had 2.5 sacks each and Denicos Allen also had a pair. Bennie Fowler and Tony Lippett combined for 11 catches and Connor Cook threw for 252 yards and a touchdown. The running game put it away again, as Jeremy Langford ran for 120 yards and iced the victory with a 40-yard touchdown in the fourth quarter.
Michigan State 41, Nebraska 28
Nov. 16 at Memorial Stadium, Lincoln, Neb.
Michigan State clinched at least a share of the Legends Division title by taking advantage of five Nebraska turnovers. It was the first time the Spartans had won in Lincoln and the first time they had ever beaten the Cornhuskers. Jeremy Langford continued to establish himself as one of the top backs in the Big Ten, scoring three touchdowns and running for 151 yards on 32 carries. Connor Cook was efficient again and led a fourth-quarter drive that put the game away, capping it with a 27-yard touchdown pass to Keith Mumphery.
Michigan State 30, Northwestern 6
Nov. 23 at Ryan Field, Evanston, Ill.
Michigan State capped its trip to the Big Ten Championship game as Jeremy Langford ran for 150 yards and two touchdowns and Connor Cook threw for 293 yards and two touchdowns, including an 87-yard scoring pass to Bennie Fowler. The Spartans intercepted three Northwestern passes, including two by safety Kurtis Drummond. One play after his second interception, Langford ran 37 yards for a touchdown to finish things and send the Spartans to their second title game in three seasons.
Michigan State 14, Minnesota 3
Nov. 30 at Spartan Stadium, East Lansing
Michigan State capped a perfect Big Ten season by holding an opponent without a touchdown for the sixth time all season and forcing three turnovers. It was the third time in four seasons the Spartans went unbeaten at home and it was the first time they had ever gone 8-0 in conference play. Jeremy Langford had another big day, carrying 21 times for 134 yards and a touchdown as he became the first Spartan to run for more than 100 yards in seven straight games since Lorenzo White in 1985.
Michigan State 34, Ohio State 24
Dec. 7 at Lucas Oil Stadium, Indianapolis
Michigan State locked up its first trip to the Rose Bowl in 26 years by jumping on Ohio State early and then rallying late to knock off the Buckeyes, who hadn’t lost in 24 games. Connor Cook threw for a career-high 304 yards and three touchdowns, including two in the second quarter to Keith Mumphery and Tony Lippett. The Buckeyes battled back, scoring 24 straight points to take the lead in the third quarter. But Michigan State’s defense stiffened and the Spartans scored the final 17 points of the game as Jeremy Langford scored his patented fourth-quarter touchdown — this one a 26-yard run — to finish with 128 yards and begin Michigan State’s celebration.