During MSU’s bye week, quarterbacks coach Brad Salem told his players to focus on improving one aspect of their game following the loss to Notre Dame. Sophomore quarterback Connor Cook chose two: footwork and accuracy.
Given the extended break between games, Cook said he is not clinging to any ill feelings from Saturday, where he was benched on the final drive in favor of senior Andrew Maxwell.
Cook openly aired his disappointment in the coaching staff’s decision to replace him after the game, but head coach Mark Dantonio has since clarified that he remains the starting quarterback.
“It’s all gone, you know, I put that aside days ago,” Cook said. “I put that aside on Sunday, the day after the game. So I really haven’t been thinking about that at all. Everything’s on Iowa — we’re all working together to beat Iowa, so that’s our main focus right now.”
Dantonio and Cook met earlier this week and had a “good talk,” according to the coach, who did not offer additional details.
It is Cook’s show for now, and practice performances this week and next will determine whether Maxwell or redshirt freshman Tyler O’Connor will be his backup, Dantonio said.
“It makes me feel good that they believe in me and have confidence in me, but I’ve just got to continue to get better and not be satisfied where I’m at,” Cook said. “Because I really wasn’t satisfied, I know I’m capable of a lot better than what I showed Saturday.”
To help overcome some of his passing flaws, Cook said he is simply slowing down and thinking about the proper steps and technique — fundamentals that easily can get lost in the heat of a play. Jittery feet and throwing too high for receivers have been two of his most notable flaws.
With Cook settling into the role, it appears more and more likely that freshman quarterback Damion Terry is headed for a redshirt season.
“We make redshirt decisions as we go,” Dantonio said. “We’re not making a decision right now. As of right now, (Terry will) be our scout team quarterback and he’s not gonna get the reps with the ones or twos, but you never know how things shake out.”
The extra week before opening Big Ten play at Iowa on Oct. 5 gives MSU opportunities to get healthy, and additional time for players such as redshirt freshman tight end Jamal Lyles to get better acquainted to new positions.
The 6-foot-3, 246-pound player was recruited as a linebacker and converted to defensive end before making the switch to offense this season. He said coaches approached him about the switch after the Western Michigan game.
“I think (the bye) gives Jamal a chance to settle in a little bit at tight end,” Dantonio said. “There’s a huge learning curve because he missed all spring, and really all of fall camp at tight end. So he’s coming.”
Lyles said he still is capable of playing defense, but currently is practicing full-time with the offense and is looking forward to more opportunities as the season moves forward. His athleticism and background as a high wide receiver in high school give the position a much-needed boost in the passing game.
He has three catches for 35 yards so far, highlighted by an impressive 16-yard grab against Notre Dame.
“I’m just trying to go out there and make plays, really,” Lyles said. “It’s feeling real natural, so I’ll probably be here at tight end for a long time.”
Originally scheduled to be played first in Tuscaloosa, Ala., at Bryant-Denny Stadium in 2016 and then at Spartan Stadium in 2017, the Free Press reported Alabama requested the cancellation due to scheduling uncertainty in the Southeastern Conference.
The series would have matched the Spartans against former MSU coach Nick Saban, who has built the Crimson Tide into the nation’s premier football program. Head coach Mark Dantonio served as Saban’s assistant during his tenure in East Lansing from 1995-99.
MSU replaced a previously scheduled home-and-home against West Virginia with a highly anticipated series versus Oregon in 2014 and 2015. The Spartans also have a deal in place to play Miami (Fla.) in 2020-21.