Like a kick to the gut, Michigan State's Dan Conroy's 47-yard field goal sailed through the uprights with a minute remaining late Saturday night.
The kick gave the Spartans a 17-16 win over TCU in the Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl in front of 44,617 in attendance at Sun Devil Stadium.
The Horned Frogs finished their first season in the Big 12 Conference with a 7-6 record, capped by an agonizingly slim defeat that, in many ways, encapsulated the entire season. And like much of the year, they'll be kicking themselves for a while over costly mistakes and missed opportunities against Michigan State, which also finished 7-6.
TCU built a 13-0 lead and seemingly had the game in control through much of the first three quarters. But the Frogs' fledgling offense came to a screeching halt in the second half, as the Spartan's fourth-ranked defense clamped down on the Frogs and held them scoreless in the second half until the final few minutes.
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By then, TCU had been stunned by a Spartan comeback that saw MSU take the lead after Skye Dawson fumbled a punt, which MSU recovered at the TCU 4-yard line. Le'Veon Bell's four-yard scoring run gave the Spartans a 14-13 lead with seven minutes remaining in the game.
But the Frogs rallied and Jaden Oberkrom's 53-yard field goal – a career-high for the freshman from Arlington Martin High School – gave TCU a 16-14 lead with 2:42 to go.
TCU's defense, which had been spectacular for most of the night, couldn't slow the Spartans with the game on the line. MSU drove 45 yards on eight plays to set up Conroy's game-winning kick.
The Frogs' attempt at another comeback in the final minute failed to materialize after Trevone Boykin's two incompletions and two holding penalties doomed the drive. It was that kind of night for Boykin, who struggled with his accuracy, and completed 13 of 29 passes, his second-lowest completion percentage in nine starts.
But despite Boykin’s passing problems, TCU was still in command and leading 13-0 thanks to the Frogs’ defense, which held the Spartans to 84 total yards until they got the ball with 7:08 left in the third quarter.
That’s when Connor Cook replaced starting quarterback Andrew Maxwell and MSU’s offense began to wear down the Frogs. After being held to 38 yards in the first half, Bell, the nation’s third-leading rusher entering the game, rushed eight times for 35 yards on the drive. But his biggest play came when he pulled up after a handoff and surprised the Frogs with s 29-yard pass to TyQuan Hammock to the TCU 16. Aaron Burbridge beat linebacker Joel Hasley across the middle and scored on a 15-yard touchdown to cap the 90-yard, 14-play drive as the third quarter came to a close.
The Frogs led 13-7 entering the fourth quarter, and the TCU defense adjusted and forced two more of the Spartans' season-high 11 punts.
Dawson, a senior playing his last game as a Frog, dropped Mike Sadler’s 55-yard punt and RJ Williamson recovered it to set up Bell’s go-ahead score. Bell finished with 145 yards on 32 carries.
“Only person I can blame is myself, really,” Patterson said. “No disrespect to Michigan State, but for us, felt like the fumble, did a couple things in the red zone and had to kick field goals you’re not going to win against good football teams. For us, [we’re] glad we got here. [We feel] a little empty inside because we felt we left a lot on the field.”
TCU held the Spartans to season-lows in yards (227) and first downs (13), but the Frogs' offense let opportunities to add more touchdowns slip by and settled for two second-quarter field goals after getting inside the MSU 21 and 19 on consecutive drives. Towards the end of the first half, the Frogs started at the MSU 49 and were at the 40 when Boykin was intercepted for the 10th time this season. In the second half, MSU wore down TCU’s offensive line and collected three of its four sacks on Boykin, who was limping throughout the half.
“I think you’ve got to give Michigan State a little bit of that credit,” Patterson said. “You got to learn how to find a way to win, plain and simple. That’s what you’re judged on. As Trevone gets older, he’ll be judged on when you had the ball last. Can you be the guy that drives it down the field, goes and makes the plays? That’s what you want out of a quarterback. That’s what we’re looking for.”