Following this past Saturday’s 27-22 victory over No. 21 Nebraska, junior quarterback Connor Cook said all wins count as one.
While this week’s matchup against Purdue isn’t receiving as much national attention, that same mindset will carry over as the Spartans continue to trek through Big Ten play.
MSU has owned the Boilermakers as of late — winning the last five meetings — and is a three touchdown favorite this week, but the Spartans aren’t taking Purdue lightly. The Boilermakers stand as the next roadblock to break through in pursuit of back-to-back Big Ten titles for MSU, and head coach Mark Dantonio said he expects an upset-minded Purdue team to be ready to go on Saturday when Sparty comes to Ross-Ade Stadium.
“When you stay the course and you allow yourself or people allow you to critique what you’re doing, you can get better. I think that’s what they are doing,” Dantonio said. “They seem to play up to their competition.”
Back on the road
It’s been more than a month since MSU has traveled to an opponent’s home turf, and players and coaches are ready to get back on the road.
The Spartans won their last trip to Ross-Ade Stadium in 2009, and Dantonio carries a perfect 2-0 record when traveling to West Lafayette, Ind. Dantonio is excited to get back on the road this week and said when it comes to road games he’ll make changes and adjustments to pre-game rituals to keep things fresh.
“(You) want to make it different and want (players) to have some of the same dynamics they have at home, but at the same time it’s different,” Dantonio said. “So you have to approach it differently. So we do some different things that we don’t do at home.”
Dantonio switch-ups for the road have worked for MSU in the past. In its last 20 away games, MSU boasts a 14-6 record, including wins at Nebraska, Ohio State and Michigan.
One of the six road losses MSU has endured recently was on Sept. 6 against then-No. 3 Oregon. Through the early season road loss, junior linebacker Ed Davis said MSU was able to learn more about communicating in a hostile environment and can use that experience as a helpful tool for this week’s road matchup.
“It’s very beneficial,” Davis said of having one road game already under the team’s belt. “We know what it takes now, we know the mistakes we can’t make and we know we have to communicate without a doubt, because if we don’t communicate, we can give up big plays that can lose us some games.”
One area of focus this week for MSU will be getting Cook back on track after a poor outing last Saturday against Nebraska.
Cook was inaccurate throughout the evening, finishing 11 of 29 passing completions. He also made an early mistake, throwing an interception on his first passing attempt of the game.
Cook’s 38 percent completion rate was by far his worst of the season, and his lowest since last year’s season opener against Western Michigan. Co-offensive coordinator and running back coach Dave Warner said Nebraska’s stout defense played a role in Cook’s struggles last week, but he’s confident Cook will be able to shake it off and perform better against Purdue.
“As a quarterback you might not play lights out every week, but you got to play good every week,” Warner said. “That’s part of the job, playing the position. You can’t have an off night, and for whatever reason, he did. Part of it certainly is Nebraska, part of it is a good football team we played against, but I think Connor made some mistakes that he normally wouldn’t make, so we just got to go back and make sure he gets back on the right track.”
Following last week’s game, Cook was the first to call out his poor performance and say he needed to be better this week against Purdue. Cook considers himself his hardest critic, and is always looking to improve upon the prior week’s performance, whether good or bad.
“With me, I’m never satisfied no matter how good I play, no matter how bad I play,” Cook said. “I always go back and watch film. I can play great but there’s always one play that’ll eat at me, but I am my hardest critic and I strive for perfection in everything I do and try to be great and never be satisfied.”
Cook will have an opportunity this week to not only redeem himself for last week, but also last season’s matchup against the Boilermakers. Cook struggled to get any rhythm going last year against Purdue, finishing 13 of 25 passes for 107 yards. Cook said on Tuesday that he remembered multiple plays from a year ago where he missed an open wide receiver or tight end, but that he’s improved this year and is confident he won’t make the same mistakes.
“I’m a more experienced quarterback and I’ve been in those situations,” Cook said. “I’ve played on the road at hostile environments (so) that I know ... this time going in that I’ll be more focused, be more precise in my reads, more discipline(d) and more accurate.”
Learning from last year
Last season when Purdue came to Spartan Stadium, it was a battle between the league’s best and worst. MSU went on to win the Big Ten with a 13-1 overall record at season end, while Purdue limped to an 1-11 campaign.
But the result of the Oct. 19 battle would suggest otherwise. MSU’s offense struggled throughout the day and needed a late touchdown pass on a trick play from senior wide receiver Tony Lippett to hold off the Boilermakers 14-0.
Dantonio recalled last year’s tough matchup against Purdue, giving the Boilermakers credit for making it a physical game.
“They came and played extremely hard. It was a physical football game, really, from the get?go,” Dantonio said. “There were some things that maybe we could have done better, I’m sure. But at the same time, you credit Purdue and what they came and brought to the table. Again, I think (Purdue) played up when they came here and I expect a very competitive game over there.”
While MSU’s offense was only able to produce 294 total yards, the Spartan defense was stellar last year against the Boilermakers. MSU held Purdue to only 226 total yards and former outside linebacker Denicos Allen had a scoop-and-score fumble recovery for a touchdown to give the Green and White a 7-0 lead in the second quarter.
Purdue returns 10 offensive starters from last season’s team, including skilled senior running back Akeem Hunt. Through six games, Hunt is averaging more than 100 yards per game in all-purpose yards and had a strong showing last season that caught some Spartan defenders’ attention.
Senior defensive end Marcus Rush admitted that he doesn’t have a great memory, but did remember playing against Hunt and the Purdue rushing attack last season. He said the Purdue rushing game was solid and can pose some potential problems for MSU if they don’t come ready to play.
“I remember they had a big back that ran the ball really well,” Rush said. “He ran it hard and I think we struggled a little bit with him. They’re a good power team so we just got to be on our A game.”