MSU's Marcus Rush, Keith Mumphery go out in style

Matt Charboneau
The Detroit News
Michigan State head coach Mark Dantonio celebrates after the winning extra point is kicked, giving the Spartans a 42-41 lead late against Baylor on Thursday in the Cotton Bowl.

Arlington, Texas — There were plenty of heroes for Michigan State on Thursday.

That will happen when a team rallies from 20 points down in the fourth quarter, just as the Spartans did in their 42-41 Cotton Bowl victory over Baylor at AT&T Stadium.

Connor Cook bounced back from a shaky performance to throw two fourth-quarter touchdown passes and Jeremy Langford ran for 162 yards and three scores. Safety RJ Williamson returned a blocked field goal into Baylor territory, Shilique Calhoun had 11/2 sacks and Riley Bullough's interception sealed the victory.

But two of Michigan State's most unassuming players — two fifth-year seniors who have been steady throughout their careers — were two of the biggest stars on the biggest stage.

Defensive end Marcus Rush, starting in his school-record 53rd game, had a blocked field goal and a half-sack all in the final two minutes of the game.

And wide receiver Keith Mumphery, a guy often overshadowed by teammate Tony Lippett, grabbed the winning score on a 10-yard strike from Cook with 17 seconds to play.

For Rush, it was a fitting end to a productive career. As Calhoun and Lawrence Thomas also broke through the line as Baylor kicker Chris Callahan attempted a 43-yard, it was Rush who got his hand on the ball.

"L.T. and Shilique got good penetration," Rush said. "I came through on that, got my hand up in the right place, thank God, and then it went right into RJ's hands. I don't know how that happened. Something up there was watching over us.

"To lose this last game would have been awful. I would have never been able to look back at it because it looked like they were gonna blow us out. It was looking ugly."

It, of course, didn't end that way. And the two grabs late by Mumphery were a big reason.

When Michigan State took over at the Baylor 45 following Rush's block, Cook hit Mumphery for an 18-yard gain. After Cook found Lippett for 17 yards on fourth down, he went back to Mumphery for the winner.

"We've got 17 seconds to go," Mumphery said was his first thought. "Then I would be able to celebrate. … To score the winning touchdown, I'm too excited right now. I don't know what to say."

Last hurrah?

The Cotton Bowl victory was the 42nd for the senior class, matching the mark set by last year's group. And while it was their final time playing for the Spartans, it might have been for Calhoun and cornerback Trae Waynes.

Though both are projected to be high picks in the NFL Draft if they come out, neither was saying anything after the game.

Waynes did indicate he hopes to have a decision in the next few days while Calhoun chose to keep the focus on Thursday's victory.

"Not right now," he said. "The focus is on the seniors and giving this team a great win. I don't want to take away from that. I want to cherish the moment. As Coach (Ron) Burton says, live in the moment. When it happens it will happen."

Costly miscues

Michigan State had plenty of chances early in the game to keep from digging a significant hole, but Baylor was kicking itself for several miscues, including a field goal that hit the upright with the Bears up 41-21 and the blocked field goal late.

But two other key penalties proved to be huge.

The first came when linebacker Taylor Young intercepted Connor Cook's pass and returned it for a touchdown. But an illegal block on the return negated the score and Michigan State got the turnover on downs. The Spartans scored on the ensuing drive to cut the Bears' lead to 41-35.

Then, with the clock winding down, receiver Corey Coleman was called for a facemask after catching a 26-yard pass at the MSU 7. After a false start, the Bears were pushed back, setting up the 43-yard field goal that was blocked by Rush.

"We left some things get on the table, let some things get away from us," Baylor coach Art Briles said. "It's, quite honestly, an embarrassment to me as a coach. I feel bad for our players. I feel bad for our football team. And I feel bad for our university."

Extra points

Michigan State extended a school record and tied a Big Ten record by winning its fourth straight bowl game (2012 Outback. 2012 Buffalo Wild Wings, 2014 Rose, 2015 Cotton).

… Michigan State held Baylor to minus-20 yards rushing, the fewest ever by a Spartan bowl opponent.

Jeremy Langford rushed for 162 yards on 27 carries, the third-highest rushing total by a Spartan in a bowl game. His 22 touchdowns this season also matched the 22 from Javon Ringer in 2008.

… The 552 yards of total offense from Michigan State is the second-most in bowl history behind the 586 it had in a win over Fresno State in the 2001 Silicon Valley Classic.