Michigan State rallies to win Peach Bowl

Published 10:31 pm Friday, December 31, 2021

ATLANTA — Just as it turned around the 2021 season, the No. 10-ranked Michigan State Spartans turned around an 11-point deficit to beat No. 12-ranked Pittsburgh 31-21 in the Chick-fil-A Peach Bowl Thursday night.

Trailing 21-10, the Spartans (11-2) outscored the Panthers 21-0 in the fourth quarter to cap off a dramatic season under second-year Head Coach Mel Tucker.

Pittsburgh, which had to play nearly the entire game with third-string quarterback due to the opt-out by Heisman Trophy finalist Kenny Pickett and an injury to back-up quarterback Nick Patti on the second offensive drive of the game, dominated the first half against MSU.

Tucker, who signed a 10-year, $95 million contract extension earlier this season, was pleased with the way his team responded to the adversity.

“Our guys played extremely hard like they always do,” he said. “They never flinched. They continued to just keep chopping wood and keep believing. And we were able to hit our stride there in the second half and play complementary football — offense, defense, special teams working together. And we were able to take it deep down into the fourth quarter and we got stronger and stronger as the game went. And we went down into the deep water and were able to find a way to get it done.”

Spartan quarterback Payton Thorne, who did not play well in the first half, regrouped and helped lead Michigan State back in the final 30 minutes. He finished the game 29-of-50 for a career-high 354 yards passing and three touchdowns. Thorne set a new Spartan record for touchdowns in a single season with 27 to pass former MSU standout Kirk Cousins, who threw 25 touchdown passes in 2011.

Thorne was 14-of-19 for 144 yards and two touchdowns in the fourth quarter to lead the comeback.

Dowagiac graduate Cody Cox, who is in his second season as the Michigan State director of football operations, was also pleased with how the Spartans got the program headed back in the right direction, capping it off with a bowl victory.

“The best way to describe it would be fulfilling,” he said. “We put in a lot of work. We worked just as hard this year as we did last year, but we were on the better side of things this year just by doing what we had to do. We have a great organization, a good staff, and good people. We were all moving in the right direction and it made for a successful year.”

Now in his fifth season as a member of the full-time Michigan State football staff, Cox helps coordinate the day-to-day operations of the football program. That includes planning, organizing and coordinating the annual football calendar, preseason camp, home and away team travel, training table, player guest tickets, and all team-related events and functions. Cox managed the design and creation of the team rules, regulations and philosophies handbook titled “The Winner’s Manual” and was also responsible for planning and coordinating all aspects of the Michigan State summer football camps.

Cox graduated from MSU with a bachelor’s degree in kinesiology in 2014 and a master’s in sports administration in 2016. He and his wife Molly have an infant son, Wesley James, born in May 2020.