Michigan State pulled off one of the biggest comebacks of the college football season, using a furious fourth quarter and a huge blocked kick to beat Baylor 42-41 in the Cotton Bowl on Thursday. The only other team to come back from a 20-point fourth quarter deficit this year was Baylor, against TCU, according to ESPN.
The Spartans were able to hang with the Bears at the beginning, using a 65-yard run from Jeremy Langford to set up a touchdown on their first drive. Baylor responded, as the Bears often do (and often would in this game), finding one of their elite receivers deep for a touchdown. This time it was true freshman KD Cannon receiving the pass from Bryce Petty, beating all-conference defensive back Kurtis Drummond for the 49-yard score.
Michigan State answered back with another short rushing touchdown, while the Bears tied it up again on a trick play. Baylor took their first lead of the game in the second quarter when multiple Spartan penalties led to a short touchdown dive from Petty. A field goal before halftime made it 24-14 Bears.
In the second half, Baylor went right back to what had been working. Petty found Cannon just 28 seconds into the third quarter for a 74-yard score. The Bears started to pull away late in the third, scoring a receiving touchdown with a 390-pound offensive lineman and picking off Connor Cook on two of Michigan State's three next drives. Baylor led by 20 entering the fourth.
Michigan State pulled back within a touchdown with five minutes left in the fourth, and blocked Baylor's late field goal attempt to give themselves another chance. Cook found Keith Mumphery on third-and-goal to tie the game, and the extra point took the lead. That was the Spartans' third unanswered touchdown in the period.
For Baylor, they're now 2-3 in bowl games under Art Briles, losing their second in a row. Michigan State's streak of bowl wins continues to four, and Mark Dantonio is now 4-4 in bowls with the Spartans.
Three things we learned
1. Michigan State is Michigan State, but they have some questions ahead of next season. It's hard to know how quickly Jim Harbaugh can turn around Michigan, but the Big Ten East sure seems tougher with his arrival. That could be bad news for the Spartans, who will lose a significant chunk of this team's contributors.
Michigan State loses five offensive starters, including Tony Lippett and Langford, but will likely return quarterback Connor Cook and three starting offensive linemen. On defense, four senior starters graduate, and defensive end Shilique Calhoun and cornerback Trae Waynes are both candidates to leave early for the NFL Draft.
The losses of Lippett and Langford really hurt, and it's hard to see exactly where the Spartans' offensive production will come from without them. In the first quarter, Langford surpassed 100 yards rushing -- his 10th straight game reaching that mark -- and he finished with 162 yards and three touchdowns. Lippett caught five passes for 74 yards along with a 19-yard rush, playing cornerback as well. Meanwhile, Cook struggled early and played a decent fourth quarter, ending up 24-of-42 for 314 yards with two touchdowns and two interceptions. The offense may take a step back -- with defensive coordinator Pat Narduzzi heading to Pitt, will the defense be strong enough to mitigate that damage?
2. Next year's Big 12 race is going to be fun. TCU demolished Ole Miss in the Peach Bowl, and will return nearly its entire offense. Baylor's offense was tested by one of the best defenses in the country as well, and they passed with flying colors (even if they couldn't come up with the win in the end). The Bears and Horned Frogs play Nov. 27 in Fort Worth. Mark that on your new 2015 calendars.
Baylor returns eight starters on offense, losing quarterback Petty and wide receivers Antwan Goodley and Levi Norwood. They return all five offensive linemen, including first-team All-American tackle Spencer Drango. The Bears bring back nine starters on defense, losing linebacker Bryce Hager and nickel back Collin Brence. Third-team All-American defensive end Shawn Oakman, who set a school record with 11 sacks this season, is among the key returners for the unit.
3. Meet the new boss, same as the old boss.The Baylor offense run by Kendal Briles, head coach Art Briles' son, looked pretty dang similar to the Baylor offense run by Philip Montgomery, recently hired as Tulsa's head coach. The Bears attacked Michigan State vertically all game long, routinely beating an excellent Spartans secondary with their outstanding corps of athletic wide receivers.
Petty passed for 550 yards on 51 attempts, with three touchdowns and an interception on his final throw. Three Baylor receivers (Cannon, Coleman and Goodley) eclipsed 90 receiving yards. The freshman Cannon caught eight passes for 197 yards and two scores. Even without Montgomery, it looks like the Bears are going to be very similar on offense next season.