Spartans take steps forward in key areas during victory
It took MSU three hours and 18 minutes to pummel lowly Youngstown State 55-17 on Saturday, but as the final whistle blew, it signaled the conclusion of a quarterback controversy more than nine months in the making.
Alas, the competition was settled — at least temporarily — when head coach Mark Dantonio confirmed sophomore Connor Cook is MSU’s starting quarterback moving forward after his team thrashed the Penguins of the Football Championship Subdivision.
“It was the plan to go with (Cook) and to stick with him if he had a difficult time,” Dantonio said. “I thought he responded. … Connor Cook is the No. 1 quarterback.”
Cook did what no other Spartan quarterback has been able to in 2013: He threw a touchdown pass (four, actually), moved the offense with consistency and, above all else, he was given ample time to produce without the pressure of being cemented to the bench.
In slightly more than a half against Youngstown State, Cook completed 15 of 22 passes for 202 yards and ran for 25 more. His four passing scores were the most for a Spartan quarterback since Brian Hoyer in 2007.
Despite the severely overwhelmed competition, simply seeing MSU show a pulse offensively was worth cheering for many.
Cook might not have been the guy fans originally wanted — the “We want Terry” chant, in reference to No. 2 quarterback Damion Terry, started before MSU ran a single play — but he gave them the performance they wanted.
“This was the first time where I was in and I was the main guy,” Cook said. “When you know your coaches believe in you, you know your players (and) teammates believe in you, and you believe in yourself, it just makes you a lot more confident and not afraid to make mistakes.”
The Spartans’ 55 points tied the highest total under Dantonio, which happened against UAB in his 2007 debut and against Indiana in 2011.
MSU should have cruised to similar blowout wins against underdogs Western Michigan and South Florida in the first two weeks, but an ineffective offense kept the margins close.
Senior Andrew Maxwell, redshirt freshman Tyler O’Connor and Cook each split time at quarterback to minimal results through both games.
Having time to get into a groove with the offense was the biggest difference between the first two games and Saturday, Cook said.
“If you don’t have a rhythm, you are not going to be a successful quarterback,” he said.
Now, for the first time since before last December’s Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl win, the quarterback position has some clarity at MSU.
The job is Cook’s for the foreseeable future, and he’ll face a test unlike the first three contests with a trip to Notre Dame on deck.
As for fan-favorite Terry, Dantonio said he likely will redshirt this season.
“The fact that we had explosive plays gives you an indication that we grew up a little bit,” Dantonio said. “We caught fire a little bit, provided a spark that will hopefully ignite our offense.”