There was a moment during Saturday’s game when the MSU offense proved how good it can be.
After driving the length of the field against Purdue, sophomore quarterback Connor Cook rolled out to the left before lateraling the ball to junior wide receiver Tony Lippett, who promptly reversed field and came up throwing.
A former high school quarterback, Lippett lobbed a pass toward wide-open junior tight end Andrew Gleichert, who caught it and raised in arms in a moment of triumph for his first career touchdown, putting the Spartans ahead by two scores in the fourth quarter.
However, it was the only moment in nearly three hours of gametime that resembled the offense that was heavily praised against Iowa and Indiana, as the Spartans (6-1 overall, 3-0 Big Ten) squeaked by hapless Purdue (1-6, 0-3), 14-0.
Until Lippett’s touchdown pass, the Spartans held on to a 7-0 lead triggered by senior linebacker Denicos Allen’s 45-yard fumble return in the second quarterch, leading the defense to its first Big Ten opponent shutout since 1999.
Head coach Mark Dantonio called the game “a step forward,” given that the team found a way to win and now has earned bowl eligibility for the end of the season.
“If you’re 1-5 and coming into the football game, you’ve got to respond. You’re challenged,” Dantonio said “We’ve been in those situations before where I’ve coached. So, you’ve got to respond, you gear up and get ready to play. I think that was their mindset coming here today. There are no gimmicks out there on the football field.”
Junior running back Jeremy Langford carried the offensive load with a career-high 131 yards on 24 attempts, marking his second-consecutive game with at least 100 yards on the ground.
For Langford, MSU’s leading rusher on the season with 551 yards and seven touchdowns, the victory means more than any offensive shortcomings the team faced against the Boilermakers.
“We got the win and that’s the most important part of playing football,” Langford said. “Either you win or you lose. At the end of the day, it wasn’t the best one, it wasn’t perfect but no game is. That’s the most important part.”
Cook finished the day with 107 yards passing on 13 completions, largely struggling to make a connection with his wide receivers without senior Bennie Fowler (hamstring) and sophomore Aaron Burbridge (leg tweak) in the lineup.
After throwing for 200 yards or more in three of the previous four games, the consensus feeling was that Cook suffered a setback against Purdue — a fact which co-offensive coordinator Dave Warner refuted after the game.
“In the quarterback position, you try and get into a rhythm, get some confidence and get some early completions,” Warner said. “Maybe I could have called some better plays early on to put him in that rhythm. So I guess it wasn’t something during the game that happened, it maybe just wasn’t his best day.”ch
Following their second-lowest scoring output of the season, the Spartans have the week to regroup before hitting the road to take on Illinois on Saturday (3:30 p.m., ABC). The Fighting Illini (3-3, 0-2)ch welcome the Spartans to Memorial Stadium, averaging more than twice as many points per game than Purdue does.
Being bowl eligible remains a selling point for Dantonio and the Spartans, who were not able to secure the same status until the final regular season game in 2012. Despite earning it in a lackluster showing against the Boilermakers, Dantonio said the Spartans continue to inch closer to the team’s postseason aspirations.
“We’re 6-1 and we’re bowl eligible. That was the goal going into this game,” Dantonio said. “That took us to the last game last year because of the close losses we had to make that, so now we start climbing the ladder. We have the opportunity to go play at Illinois next week and to further that 3-0 in the Big Ten Conference.”