Early last week, Connor Cook was handed the keys to the MSU football team. And after Saturday’s performance against Youngstown State, the sophomore quarterback appears to have no intention of giving them back anytime soon.
In the second start of his career, Cook picked apart the Penguins’ secondary, throwing for 202 yards and four touchdowns in a 55-17 victory at Spartan Stadium.
From the first play from scrimmage, Cook came with pistols drawn, appearing poised, fearless and, for the first time for any of MSU’s quarterbacks this season, confident — a trait he attributes to a conversation he had with head coach Mark Dantonio. A conversation that could turn the tide of a season.
“When I sat down with coach Dantonio, he said, ‘You’re the guy and we believe in you, we have all the confidence in the world with you,‘” Cook said. “I found my rhythm pretty early tonight, just like the last couple games, it’s hard to find a rhythm when you are working with two other QBs or another QB.”
Through the first two games, Cook split time with senior Andrew Maxwell and redshirt freshman Tyler O’Connor, while Dantonio also threw freshman Damion Terry’s name into the mix. And during the same span, the team went without a single passing touchdown, struggling to find an offensive pulse in wins against Western Michigan and South Florida.
Against Youngstown State, Cook took charge of the offense, making plays and building chemistry with his often-criticized wide receiving corps.
But more than analyzing Cook and the offense’s showing, the game serves as a point of relief and optimism for the Spartans.
Youngstown State plays in the NCAA’s Football Championship Subdivision, and while they are a successful team at their respective level, MSU definitely is the toughest team they’ll play all season. Quite frankly, the Spartans should have the ability to hang a crooked number on the Penguins at will, regardless of the quarterback situation.
Cook wasn’t perfect against Youngstown State. But really, he didn’t have to be.
He needed to step in and prove he’s the guy who gives the team the best chance to make explosive plays and, ultimately, win games.
The Spartans had more explosive plays against Youngstown State (10) than the team had in the first two games combined (nine). Cook also completed passes to 10 different receivers, ranging from familiar targets such as senior wide receiver Bennie Fowler to new faces on offense such as redshirt freshman tight end and converted defensive lineman Jamal Lyles.
“We went into this football game telling Connor that this is his game,” co-offensive coordinator Dave Warner said. “We definitely went into this game different then we have in the previous couple of games, so I think that helped him from a confidence standpoint, and he seemed to settle in and make plays.”
There was unquestionable progress made in the span of a weekend. However you put it into context, that much remains to be true.
With a showdown against Notre Dame less than a week away, the Spartans now have proved they have the punching power to compete with nearly anyone on the schedule.
Cook’s in the driver’s seat and appears to be primed to prove he’s the man for the job under center. And if he can replicate what he was able to do against Youngstown State, the road to Pasadena only gets smoother.
Dillon Davis is a State News football beat reporter. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.