Lippett's catch, ND loss spurred MSU offense

A two-week stretch in September/early October keyed the Spartans' offensive growth. Players talk about what happened during that stretch and the play that lit the fire.

Facing a third and 8 at its 48-yard line in Iowa City in early October, Michigan State's season turned.

"It was a fade route to the left with Tony Lippett," quarterback Connor Cook said. "I underthrew it a bit. He reached out over the guy and picked it off his back."

Coming off a close loss at Notre Dame, the effort from the junior receiver set the tone for the Spartans offense moving forward. At least, that's what Cook – who said the grab got him and Lippett fired up – felt.

"I think everyone else after they saw that said, 'You know what, we've got some athletes here, we can play' and I think after that guys' confidence went through the roof and started making plays all over the place," Cook said.

From that point on, Cook said everyone took it upon themselves to make plays.

The result was an average of more than 30 points per game in the conference – more than a 10-point improvement from 2012 and the second-highest average during Mark Dantonio's tenure. The Spartans haven't lost a game since.

But Lippett's catch was just the hammering home what the Spartans learned two weeks before in a tough 17-13 loss at Notre Dame – the lone blemish of the season for MSU.

"That was a tough loss for us," running back Jeremy Langford said. "Yet we realized the season we had in front of us, it could be a special one. … After that game, we changed it around."

The change, in part, stemmed from a group of senior leaders spread among the position groups on the team. That group rallied the team after the loss in South Bend and capitalized on the bye week heading into Iowa City.

"After that game," senior captain Blake Treadwell said, "we gathered around in the bye week – all the seniors and leaders gathered – and we said this is not what's going to happen, we're going to stand up, we're going to fight and show what Michigan State can do."

MSU's budding sophomore quarterback Cook said that time was when MSU understood what was on the line and what was at stake.

"We had that sickening feeling after losing to Notre Dame and it was all our state of mind," he said. "We realized we didn't want to lose anymore, losing stinks, and with how good our defense is, if we score 21 points a game we're going to come away with a victory is how we look at it."

They did just that as the Spartans rolled through Big Ten play, going 9-0 and winning every game by double digits – even a pair of games in which they only scored 14.

A single catch might not have meant much at the time – the drive extended by Lippett's grab didn't result in points – but it lingers as a tide changer for the Spartans. And the tide carried them all the way to the Rose Bowl.

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