A span of more than two games. One hundred twenty-nine minutes. Seven thousand seven hundred seventeen seconds.
In short, it’s been a long time since the MSU football team had a passing touchdown.
But in a span of two minutes and nine seconds on the second drive of Saturday’s game against Youngstown State, sophomore Connor Cook put an end to the futility and, at the same time, MSU’s rotating quarterback carousel.
After driving the offense 63 yards to set up on Youngstown State’s 13-yard line in the first quarter, Cook dropped back in the pocket and rolled out to the right looking for sophomore wide receiver Andre Sims Jr., finding him on a short pass. From there, Sims made the reception and scampered into the endzone, calm and composed, as if the two had linked up many times before.
However, it was just the second collegiate touchdown pass Cook’s ever thrown — the first coming against TCU in the Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl in December 2012.
And after the lid was off, there was no turning back.
Cook was the centerpiece of an enlightened offensive attack, throwing for 202 yards and four touchdowns in a 55-17 thrashing of Youngstown State before yielding much of the second half to redshirt freshman quarterback Tyler O’ Connor. The four touchdown passes are the most in a single game for an MSU quarterback since Brian Hoyer matched the feat in 2007 against Penn State.
At last, a white knight has emerged.
Cook’s high-octane afternoon before a crowd of more than 71,000 fans gave head coach Mark Dantonio all he needed to see to name the sophomore MSU’s starting quarterback moving forward.
“You want to make decisions as soon as you can, but sometimes I don’t make that the decision, the players make that decision,” Dantonio said. “They have to play well under some pressure situations and continue to play well.”
It will be difficult to find fault in what Cook and the Spartans were able to accomplish against the Penguins on Saturday.
It also will be tough to know what we’ve learned.
Certainly, you have to take the caliber of Youngstown State into consideration in measuring MSU’s ability to match the most points the Spartans have scored in a single game since Dantonio’s debut against UAB in 2007.
Before coming to Spartan Stadium this weekend, the FCS Penguins had their way against Dayton and Morehead State, winning both games by an average of 36 points. And while Youngstown State will compete hard in the NCAA Football Championship Subdivision, there’s no way to compare their ability or program resources to other teams on MSU’s schedule such as Notre Dame, Indiana or Michigan.
Now, are Western Michigan and South Florida better overall teams than Youngstown State? I would say so. But it’s not uncommon for either of those teams to be on the wrong side of a lopsided blowout, as MSU expected in the first two games of the season.
Yet, MSU’s offense was utterly impotent while the defense carried the load.
But against Youngstown State, there was nothing the Spartans couldn’t do on offense.
Junior running back Nick Hill looked as explosive as he ever has, rushing for 83 yards and one touchdown on a 35-yard breakaway run to the house in the third quarter. Fellow junior running back Jeremy Langford doubled his season’s scoring output, picking up a pair of touchdowns to go along with a 69-yard rushing day.
Even the receiving corps, who have been highly scrutinized for drops and inconsistent play, exploded for an outstanding afternoon, led by sophomore wide receiver Macgarrett Kings Jr., who made four catches for 61 yards and a touchdown.
What a day.
It’s not time to crown the offense and rescind the many criticisms the entire unit faced during the first two games of the season. But for the first time in more than a year, the Spartans have a confident quarterback under center and they appear poised to do a little damage in the Big Ten — something that could not be said 24 hours ago.
The job is yours to lose, Connor Cook. Godspeed.
Dillon Davis is a State News football beat reporter. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.