EAST LANSING, Mich. (AP) – Connor Cook waited all offseason for another chance to win a game like this – yet Michigan State’s talented quarterback needed some help at the end.
The Spartans would have to hold one more time on fourth down against Oregon’s always-dynamic offense.
“We’ve got all the confidence in the world in our defense, and know that when it’s crunch time they’re going to come through.” Cook said.
Vernon Adams threw incomplete to end Oregon’s final drive, and fifth-ranked Michigan State held on to beat the seventh-ranked Ducks 31-28 on Saturday night in college football’s marquee game of the week. The Spartans stopped Oregon four times on fourth down, including one key stand in the second quarter at the Michigan State goal line.
The Spartans lost only twice in 2014 – to Oregon and Ohio State, the two teams who played for the national title. Michigan State led in the third quarter at Oregon but lost 46-27.
“That stuck with me the whole year,” Cook said. “It stuck with me during the season. It stuck with me watching them play in the national championship. It was with me all through spring, all through camp.”
Cook threw for 192 yards and two touchdowns Saturday, and the Spartans led 31-21 before Adams threw a 15-yard touchdown pass to Byron Marshall with 3:25 remaining. After a Michigan State punt, the Ducks (1-1) drove to the Spartans 33 before Adams overthrew Marshall, who had beaten his defender.
The Spartans (2-0) then sacked Adams for a loss of 10, and his pass on fourth-and-16 was incomplete.
“It’s a long season,” Oregon’s Bralon Addison said. “The teams that played in the national championship had one loss. We can’t let this affect us.”
LJ Scott ran for two touchdowns for Michigan State, and Aaron Burbridge caught eight passes for 101 yards and a touchdown.
LJ Scott is a former WKBN 27 First News Big 22 Player of the Year. Scott played high school football at Hubbard.
It was the first time two teams in the AP top 10 met at Spartan Stadium since 1966, when No. 2 Michigan State and No. 1 Notre Dame played to a 10-10 tie. The Spartans won this one, the latest big victory for a program that has become a consistent Big Ten title contender of late.
“It feels like back in 2013, when we won the Rose Bowl. We won the Big Ten championship game,” Cook said. “So I’d rank it right up there with those games for sure.”
The game was tied at 14 after Addison returned a punt 81 yards for a touchdown early in the third quarter, but Michigan State took the lead again on Scott’s 6-yard touchdown run. A 38-yard scoring run by Scott made it 31-21 with 10:51 remaining.
Adams nearly rallied the Ducks. His scoring pass to Marshall marked the 70th consecutive game Oregon had thrown a TD pass, breaking a record the Ducks had been sharing. Texas Tech had a streak of 69 games from 2006-2011.
But Michigan State held on at the end.
“I watch those ‘Fast & Furious’ movies sometimes and that’s what that reminded me of,” Spartans coach Mark Dantonio said. “Up and down.”
Adams had the index finger on his right hand taped after the game, but he said it didn’t bother him.
Oregon drove 75 yards in 13 plays on the game’s first possession, taking the lead on a 2-yard touchdown run by Royce Freeman. The Spartans answered with an even quicker TD. Madre London broke free for a 62-yard run on Michigan State’s first offensive play, and Cook threw a 12-yard scoring pass to Josiah Price.
What looked like an offensive showcase in the making quickly simmered down. Michigan State’s Michael Geiger missed a 28-yard field goal attempt later in the first quarter, and Adams threw an interception.
Michigan State took the lead on Cook’s 17-yard touchdown pass to Burbridge early in the second quarter, and although Oregon drove all the way to the 1-yard line, the Spartans held, stopping the Ducks on fourth down.
Adams improvised impressively later in the second, scrambling in third down and throwing with his left hand to an open Addison for 25 yards. But his next pass was intercepted.
Still, the Spartans couldn’t pull away. Cook was intercepted in Oregon territory, and it was 14-7 at halftime.
Michigan State converted each of its two fourth-down attempts, and scored touchdowns shortly after both. Cook threw a 28-yard pass to Burbridge on fourth-and-6 in the third quarter to set up Scott’s first TD, which made it 21-14.
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