All week, the talk about how the Spartans would fare in the Rose Bowl without All-American linebacker Max Bullough was not favorable. Bullough was the biggest asset in stopping the run, and Stanford’s two-back offensive sets posed a huge running threat.
But on Stanford’s final offensive play of the game, it was a former walk-on making his first start that dropped Ryan Hewitt on fourth down to prevent him from getting a first down, effectively ending the game and giving No. 4 Michigan State the win.
His name is Kyler Elsworth, and if you didn’t know his name before Wednesday night, you probably aren’t alone. Elsworth was a walk-on fullback that eventually made the switch to linebacker, and even then was sparsely used. Elsworth made just 10 tackles this season with four coming in the Rose Bowl.
Kyler Elsworth is a playmaker. I’ve been playing with him for four years and he’s been making big plays.
-- Michigan State linebacker Denicos Allen.
For his 10th and final tackle of the night, Elsworth earned Defensive Player of the Game. That final hit will be one he remembers forever.
"We noticed what personnel they were running, took a timeout and switched it up. Darien Harris came in at Mike linebacker and I moved over to outside backer," Elsworth said. "We noticed the real tight splits with the offensive line and Darien Harris, myself and Shilique Calhoun noticed that the only we were going to make a play is to go over the top."
Calhoun was also credited with the stop statistically, but his teammates maintain that it was Elsworth that saved the win.
"With the situation with Max, when we first heard of it, I wasn’t too worried because I know Kyler Elsworth," said linebacker Denicos Allen. "Kyler Elsworth is a playmaker. I’ve been playing with him for four years and he’s been making big plays."
But those big plays were few and far between for the fifth-year senior. He made them count, making big stops in big championship or bowl games, but he saw more action in the Rose Bowl than in almost any other game throughout his career.
Any opportunity was enough for Elsworth. He never considered giving up, he just kept showing up for practice and diligently working.
"Everyone has that little voice in the back of their head that says ‘I wish I could start. What am I getting when I’m putting in all of this time?’" Elsworth said. "But we fill out a goal sheet every week and one of my goals every week on that goal sheet is to keep a positive attitude and look at the bigger picture.
"If you don’t get discouraged, good things will come your way eventually."
Hewitt came his way and he knocked him right back Wendesday afternoon. The final moments of his career were the biggest, and he’s content with how his entire career unfolded.