The Michigan State Spartans’ 2014 season could be described as the ultimate roller coaster. After a Week 2 collapse the Spartans cruised until meeting up with Ohio State and losing a slugfest, only to somehow end up the season beating the team that just missed out on the inaugural College Football Playoff.
In the end, the season went from out of the national title picture, to out of the Big Ten title picture and still one of the most respected teams in the country.
That’s what happens when you go out and dominate the rest of the schedule and have been on the verge of national respect for the past four years. 2014 will likely go down as the strangest, and yet most important seasons of the Mark Dantonio era, so let’s relive the good, the bad and the ugly of last season before we begin to look forward.
As if there is any other choice than the comeback win in the Cotton Bowl Classic against Baylor? I checked, and no, there is not another choice.
Not many college football teams get three chances, let alone two against national title contenders but that’s exactly what happened to the Spartans in 2014. After failing to beat Oregon in Eugene during Week 2 and going down to Ohio State in Big Ten play, the Spartans fell in to a nice spot nationally later in the season and got a bid in to the “New Years Six” bowl games.
Taking on Baylor, a team many thought should’ve replaced Ohio State was the reward and the challenge at the same time. It looked dire early on though, as Baylor took off to a 34-14 lead early on in the third quarter.
Rather than folding up and going home, Michigan State fought back and scored 21 unanswered points in the fourth quarter to edge out Baylor 42-41. It was a memorable and hair-raising final drive that got it done too, as MSU scored the game-winning touchdown with just 17 seconds left in the game.
That drive started off with an 18-yard pass to Keith Mumphrey for a first down, but the key was what came on the last-ditch play for the Spartans. Facing fourth-and-10 inside Baylor territory, Connor Cook hit Tony Lippett for a 17-yard completion and the drive and game were still alive for MSU.
It all ended as it started, with Cook hooking up with Mumphrey, this time for a 10-yard touchdown and a 42-41 lead that would stand up.
What the win did can’t be measured just on the scoreboard either. Coupling that result with a win in the Rose Bowl the previous season, Michigan State went from competitive in the Big Ten to a nationally relevant program very quickly.
Next step — consistently winning the Big Ten.
A year after handling the Ohio State Buckeyes in the Big Ten title game, Michigan State played second fiddle to the Buckeyes in the East division in 2014. While that alone isn’t necessarily bad, it was the second time in the same season that MSU failed against a potential title contender.
MSU went in to that game as the No. 8 team in the country and with a win would’ve re-established itself on the national stage. Instead, Ohio State took a 49-37 victory and used it as a catalyst for a national championship run.
The bad part of that was showing MSU’s defense was beatable — something previous seasons wasn’t said often. Ohio State put up 568 yards of total offense and racked up an impressive 268 yards on the ground alone. Those numbers have been a rarity for the Spartans defense to give up in the past few years, but perhaps the worst was giving up 300 yards and three touchdowns passing to J.T. Barrett.
If Michigan State is going to not just compete, but win the East it has to start with its defense. No matter what the offense does, Mark Dantonio’s crew isn’t going to win games without solid defense being played.
No question about what was the ugliest part of the Spartans 2014 season — that second half against the Oregon Ducks. I mean, it was downright brutal to watch and realistically the first time we’ve seen a Dantonio team just get blown out of the water in all phases of the game.
After the Spartans went up 27-18 on an early third quarter field goal few would’ve thought this game was going in the ugly column of MSU. However, something switched on for the Ducks on both sides of the ball and the doors were about to blow off the Spartans.
Oregon went on to score four unanswered touchdowns, including three of 20 yards or more en route to routing the Spartans 42-27. It was one of the ugliest displays of defense and also Connor Cook’s ugliest performance as a quarterback.
MSU’s signal caller threw just two touchdowns and managed to throw two interceptions that turned in to points for the Ducks as well. He finished the game just 29 of 47 passing and couldn’t pass his way out of the hole his team created.
In the end, the Spartans failed second half against Oregon had to be the ugliest moment of the 2014 season.