Elsworth, Harris step up big on biggest stage

Elsworth makes the play of the game in Max Bullough's absence as Spartans continue to take "next man up" approach to defense.

Having made a couple of big plays in his career, Kyler Elsworth didn't want to be done etching his name in Spartan lore.

"I have a lot more contributing I can do for this team before I can walk off this field and say I did everything I can do," he said in August.

As it turned out, he saved the best for last in his first career start – in the Rose Bowl nonetheless – and he cemented himself in Michigan State history on Wednesday.

The senior linebacker, making the start for the suspended Max Bullough, was named defensive player of the game after his fourth-down stop sealed the victory for the Spartans.

"I couldn't ask for a better stage to play on – a better stage to start my first game in five years," the one-time walk-on said. "This is the way that everyone wants to end their career. That defensive player award goes out to the whole defense."

Elsworth teamed up with Shilique Calhoun and Darien Harris for the final stop. Stanford lined up in its power formation and Elsworth went over the top as Harris and Calhoun came from either side to stuff Stanford fullback Ryan Hewitt.

"To me, it was awesome," linebackers coach Mike Tressel said. "It was fitting and I had no idea until 15 minutes after the game when they showed the replay and I was like, ‘Wow, that was amazing.'"

Tressel also pegged the job Elsworth did communicating at the middle linebacker position as a great effort.

"I'm proud that there was no flinch or no fear in their eyes when we knew we lost a leader, but other guys stepped up and it was big," he said.

Bullough was suspended for a violation of team rules and did not make the trip with the team to Pasadena, leaving Elsworth and Harris to step in to fill the spot together.

"With the situation with Max, when we first heart of it, I wasn't too worried because I know Kyler Elsworth is a playmaker," linebacker Denicos Allen said. "I just had confidence in him."

Elsworth said the "next man up" philosophy of the defense left them ready to go.

"We've gotten over adverse situations before," he said. "R.J. (Williamson) had to step in for Isaiah (Lewis) when he went down. Coach Dantonio went down a couple years ago and another coach (Don Treadwell) had to step in. Our team has deal with adverse situations and stepped up to the challenge. This is another one of those."

It also provided the opportunity to do it on the biggest stage.

"The game to play in is the Rose Bowl and I feel like they accepted the challenge," linebacker Taiwan Jones said. "They both came out hungry and aggressive and wanted to get the job done."

Harris said such support from teammates and coaches keyed the way the two middle linebackers played.

"They did a great job the whole week staying behind us and really making us feel comfortable in the middle making the calls," he said. "Right before the game, Shilique came up to me and he was like, ‘Just take control. Make sure that everybody knows it's your huddle, it's your defense when we are out there. Tell me where I'm supposed to go, tell me where I'm supposed to be. If I'm not hustling, make sure I know.'

"Just knowing that they were confident in us makes us that much more confident."

There was little doubt that Bullough served as a motivating factor to the pair of them in the Rose Bowl, though, as he had all season.

"Throughout the season, I tried to learn from him in case there was an opportunity I had to step in if he got hurt or tired," Elsworth said. "I prepared myself that I was going to be one of the guys to step in."

"Throughout the season he's been such a big brother to me," Harris said. "He will text me at 10 at night and he will be watching film from practice and that I needed to this and that.

"That just showed me that he cared about my success and the future of Michigan State as a whole."


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