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Michigan State quarterback enjoying the moment

ROSE BOWL NOTES

After finally winning the job, Connor Cook has led the Spartans to nine victories in a row and their first Rose Bowl since 1988.

December 28, 2013|Times staff reports
  • Michigan State quarterback Connor Cook tries to avoid the rush of Michigan defensive lineman Brennen Beyer during their Big Ten Conference game last month.
Michigan State quarterback Connor Cook tries to avoid the rush of Michigan… (Gregory Shamus / Getty Images )

Michigan State quarterback Connor Cook described it as "the most stressed out I've ever been in my life."

Cook was reliving his frame of mind during spring practice and fall camp, when he was trying to win the starting position.

The third-year sophomore from Hinckley, Ohio, eventually broke through early in the season and helped lead the Spartans to their first Rose Bowl appearance since 1988.

Cook has passed for 20 touchdowns with five interceptions for a Michigan State team that plays Stanford on Wednesday in the 100th Rose Bowl.

"To finally be here now, at a press conference for the Rose Bowl, knowing that I'm going to be starting for the 100th Rose Bowl — I can't even describe to you the feelings," Cook said Saturday.

The 6-foot-4, 218-pound Cook began to assume control by passing for 202 yards four touchdowns in the Spartans' third game against Youngstown State.

After being removed during a loss at Notre Dame, he passed for 277 yards and two touchdowns against Iowa.

The win over the Hawkeyes was the first of nine in a row to end the season, including a victory over No. 2 Ohio State in the Big Ten Conference title game.

Experience factor

Does Stanford own the "been there" advantage?

This is the Cardinal's second straight Rose Bowl trip and fourth consecutive Bowl Championship Series invitation.

Michigan State is playing in its first major bowl in the BCS era.

Trent Murphy, Stanford's fifth-year senior linebacker, says it takes time to separate what is important on a major bowl trip.

"Four years ago I was packing for the events," Murphy said Saturday "…This time I was packing for practice and making sure I had my vitamins…. Hopefully they get distracted having fun at Disneyland and those events and gives us the upper hand in preparation."

Some Michigan State players are definitely soaking up their first trip to California.

"Like Hollywood," junior receiver Tony Lippett said. "It's great seeing it in person, not on a movie or TV or something like that."

Lippett, who grew up in Detroit, said he had not seen any real celebrities yet, but he met some of his heroes on a trip to the Wax Museum.

"That was probably the coolest thing I've seen since I've been here," he said. "I took a picture with Jack of 'Titanic.' That's probably my favorite movie. I don't know why, but that's my favorite movie … and I took a picture of Barack Obama."

Not all Spartans are new to Tinseltown. Senior receiver Bennie Fowler said he visited Los Angeles as a high school sophomore.

"My mom just surprised my brother and I for spring break," Fowler said, "and she took us out to L.A. for a couple of days and went on Rodeo Drive and went to a Laker game."

Fowler grew up in Michigan but grew up a huge Lakers fan.

Kobe Bryant remains his favorite player.

"I love the way he plays the game, how he competes, how he doesn't like to lose," Fowler said.

Fowler said he rooted for Detroit against the Lakers in the 2004 NBA finals, but only because he was tired of the squabbling between Bryant and Shaquille O'Neal.

"Why do two great players have to fight over whose team it is?" Fowler asked. "Why can't they just share it?"

Familiar foes

This year's game features an unusual assistant coaching faceoff of former teammates from Northern Arizona.

Stanford's defensive coordinator Derek Mason and Brad Salem, Michigan State's quarterbacks coach, played together at Northern Arizona in the early 1990s.

Mason said he and Salem have remained close friends.

"We talked all season up until two weeks ago," Mason joked.

Mason has emerged as one of the nation's top defensive coordinators with an intensity that sometimes shocks his players.

Linebacker Murphy said sometimes you'd think Stanford was 2-11 instead of 11-2, "the way he rips us apart after the game.… He's always hungry and keeps us hungry."

Mason pleads guilty to all charges.

"I coach angry," Mason confessed.

One of Mason's defensive mantras is to get opposing offenses into "deep water."

What does that mean?

"A shark takes his prey into deep water," Mason explained.

Suggestion for any offense playing against Stanford's defense: Stay in the shallow end.

Patience pays off

Michigan State running back Jeremy Langford did not burst onto the scene for the Spartans.

The junior from Wayne, Mich., patiently waited his turn.

Langford contributed on special teams for two seasons before moving into a starting role.

"I never looked too far ahead," said Langford, who has rushed for 1,338 yards and 17 touchdowns this season. "I knew there were good running backs in front of me. I knew I would have to wait my turn and just be patient. I knew when I got my chance, my opportunity, I'd make the best of it."

The 6-foot, 206-pound Langford has rushed for more than 100 yards in eight consecutive games.

Langford describes his running style as "workhorse."

"Go get the four yards that we need," Langford said. "I might not be biggest, but I'm going to run with power and I play the whole game. Take no plays off blocking or running.

"I grind."

Happy returns

Stanford's return to Pasadena is just fine with fifth-year senior linebacker Shayne Skov.

Skov made eight tackles in last season's Rose Bowl victory over Wisconsin.

This season, he has made 100 tackles, including 10 for losses.

Stanford's current five-year bowl run began in the 2009 Sun Bowl, its first postseason game since 2001.

"I remember five years ago we were happy to be in a bowl game, period," he said. "We were going to El Paso and people were jumping, like you would have thought we won the lottery.

"We're incredibly grateful and this is an awesome experience. This is an awesome ride we've had."

gary.klein@latimes.com

chris.dufresne@latimes.com

Twitter: @latimesklein

Twitter: @dufresneLATimes

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Twitter: @latimesklein

Twitter: @dufresneLATimes

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