Baylor’s planned New Year’s Day of atonement turned to ruin in one of the cruelest of ironies.
The No. 5 Bears, motivated by a College Football Playoff snub and a less-than-inspiring loss a year ago in the Fiesta Bowl, collapsed at the Cotton Bowl on Thursday, blowing a 20-point fourth-quarter lead in a 42-41 loss to No. 8 Michigan State in front of 71,464 at AT&T Stadium.
The only other FBS team to lose a 20-point fourth quarter lead in 2014? TCU, to Baylor, in the now-renowned 61-58 game in Waco in October.
Spartans quarterback Connor Cook’s 10-yard pass to Keith Mumphery with 17 seconds left capped Michigan State’s Joe Montana-size comeback. Michigan State (11-2) outscored the Bears 21-0 in the last 15 minutes of the game.
Only Notre Dame, led by the future Hall of Fame quarterback Montana, overcame a larger Cotton Bowl deficit — 22 points in a 1979 victory over Houston — than the Spartans did in the 79th edition of the game.
“We let some things get away from us,” Baylor coach Art Briles said. “It’s, quite honestly, an embarrassment to me as a coach. I feel bad for our players. I feel bad for our football team. And I feel bad for our university.”
The Bears’ collapse resembled that of the Horned Frogs, who lost a 21-point lead to Baylor in the last 11 minutes on Oct. 11.
It probably wasn’t a matter of whether Baylor (11-2) forgot to pack its running game for the trip to Arlington, but rather the Spartans’ rush defense, ranked third nationally among FBS schools, with an extra man in the box that plugged seemingly every running lane.
Baylor never could establish a run and paid for it dearly down the stretch.
The Bears, not counting losses on five sacks of quarterback Bryce Petty, could only come up with 16 yards on the ground, 219 below their season per-game average. Shock Linwood led with 26 yards. Baylor’s minus-20 total on 22 carries ranks as the second-fewest in the game’s history.
While Baylor struggled on the ground, Spartans running back Jeremy Langford ran for 162 yards and three touchdowns, including one in the fourth.
“We never really felt that we had the seams there that we wanted,” Briles said. “We should have run the ball better. We didn’t and it certainly hurt us down the stretch, without a question.”
Baylor quarterback Bryce Petty tried to win the game with his arm, and he almost did with his stable of wide receivers.
The game’s most outstanding offensive player passed for a Cotton Bowl-record 550 yards and three touchdowns and ran for another while accounting for 94 percent of Baylor’s 583 total yards.
After Michigan State scored on its first two possessions, Baylor seized the momentum by scoring 27 consecutive points from near the end of the first quarter to early in the third.
Off a long lateral from Petty, wide receiver Jay Lee found Corey Coleman down the sideline, a touchdown pass covering 53 yards and capping a three-play drive of 35 seconds.
After a 1-yard TD plunge by Petty and a short field goal, Baylor took charge on the opening drive of the third quarter with the quarterback and freshman wide receiver KD Cannon hooking up for a 74-yard scoring pass, the second between the two Thursday.
Even 390-pound offensive guard LaQuan McGowan, lined up as an eligible receiver, caught an 18-yard touchdown pass from Petty for a 41-21 Bears lead late in the third quarter.
That, most thought at the time, would be the most unlikely event of the day.
Until the fourth quarter.
Cook passed for 179 of his 310 yards and two touchdowns in the fourth quarter.
He also threw one of two red-zone interceptions on a drive on which Michigan State took possession off an onside kick and drove to the Baylor 14 inside 10 minutes. Linebacker Taylor Young returned the interception 84 yards for an apparent touchdown that was called back on a blocking-in-the-back penalty.
Baylor failed to score on the drive, turning the ball over on downs, one of three blown opportunities to clinch victory.
Bears kicker Chris Callahan missed a 46-yard field goal earlier in the quarter and had another attempt, from 43 yards, blocked, setting up the Spartans’ game-winning drive.
“It’s all for naught when you lose,” Petty said. “The whole goal going into this was finishing. It’s a flashback. I’m sitting on the podium again talking about would-have, could-have, should-have.
“That’s never a spot you want to be in when you got the game like we had it.”