MSU tops TCU in dramatic bowl finish

TEMPE, Ariz. – The Michigan State Spartans walked away from Sun Devil Stadium early today with a winning record, a quarterback competition and a group of seniors feeling much better about a trying final season.

Heading that list was senior kicker Dan Conroy, who had missed nine field goals in a regular season full of narrow defeats. Conroy nailed his only try in the Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl, a 47-yard attempt with 1:01 left to give MSU a 17-16 win over the TCU Horned Frogs in front of 44,617 fans.

“He’s a clutch player and he came through in the clutch for us,” said Le’Veon Bell of Conroy, whose junior season ended with a 33-30 triple-overtime Outback Bowl win over Georgia in which he kicked the winning 28-yard field goal.

“With so many close games,” Conroy said, “losing like we did so many games in this season, to have one go our way this way was definitely exciting.”

So that’s two straight bowl wins for Mark Dantonio after losing his first four at MSU. And that’s a happy finish for an MSU team (7-6) that was ineffective on offense and dominant on defense for most of the evening, just as it was for most of the season.

“Continue to say it all along, we have great chemistry on our football team, great leadership at the ground level, which to me is the players’ level,”

Dantonio said. “We pushed through the tough times.”

They did it behind Bell’s 32 rushes for 145 yards in what may be his final game at MSU. Taking into account his 29-yard completion on a trick play, Bell accounted for all but 53 yards of MSU’s offensive output.

They got second-half domination and an end-of-game closeout from a Will Gholston-led defense. And punter Mike Sadler was MSU’s other standout specialist.

He averaged 43.7 yards on a career-high 11 punts, and his 55-yard bomb in the fourth quarter was dropped by TCU’s Skye Dawson and recovered at the TCU 4-yard line by MSU’s RJ Williamson.

Bell took it in two plays later for a 14-13 MSU lead. TCU quarterback Trevone Boykin, harassed all night by the blitzing Spartans, moved the Horned Frogs (7-6) 28 yards for a 53-yard field goal from Jaden Oberkrom with 2:42 left.

That made it 16-14 and forced MSU’s coaching staff into a tough decision: junior Andrew Maxwell or redshirt freshman Connor Cook?

Maxwell started as usual but struggled as much as he has all season. Cook replaced him in the third quarter and led a 90-yard touchdown drive – the Spartans’ longest of the season – capped by his 15-yard scoring strike to Aaron Burbridge.

Maxwell (6-of-15, 28 yards) returned two series later and manned the next three, including the 4-yard touchdown drive after the fumbled punt recovery.|

But with 2:42 left and MSU starting at its 25, MSU quarterbacks coach Dave Warner, offensive coordinator Dan Roushar and Dantonio all agreed that Cook was the way to go.

He had played with poise and had made some plays with his feet.

“What’s going through my mind?” Dantonio said of the decision. “I’m not quite sure. I had a feeling on that situation. We had to go with a guy that had moved us a little bit. Maybe more importantly, we felt like he could scramble a little better than Andrew. We needed to get in field goal position. So that’s the way we went. We came out on top.”

Cook (4-of-11, 47 yards) threw to Bell for 12 yards. He hit Dion Sims with a strike for 14.

Bell and a holding penalty on TCU did the rest of the work in setting it up for Conroy — and setting MSU up for an offseason of questions about its quarterback position.

Warner and Roushar both said it will be an open competition, with redshirt freshman Tyler O’Connor and incoming freshman Damion Terry also in the mix.

Connor said he thought he helped himself, though he didn’t want to dwell on that in the wake of a big win.

Maxwell agreed that it will be open and called it “understandable” that Cook replaced him.

“This doesn’t have to turn into being about me,” Maxwell said. “This night belongs to us. This night belongs to the Michigan State Spartans.

“I think everyone is so excited and so thrilled with how we won the game, there’s really no room to worry about how I’m feeling or who was playing quarterback. The bottom line is we won the game.”



Posted by Tribune News Services

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