EAST LANSING, Mich. — Before Michigan State even took its first offensive snap in today’s 55-17 victory over Youngstown State, there was a roar of “We want Terry!” chants echoing throughout parts of Spartan Stadium.
However, as soon as sophomore quarterback Connor Cook set foot on the field and led the Spartans (3-0) to their third offensive scoring drive of the season, the Terry noise began to simmer.
Michigan State head coach Mark Dantonio may have a lot to smile about now that he believes he found his starting quarterback.
Cook led the Spartans to three consecutive scoring drives in their first three possessions — Jeremy Langford 2-yard run, Langford 17-yard run, and a 13-yard touchdown pass to Andre Sims Jr., and there was a feel from the quarterback position that had been absent prior to today’s game.
“We went into this football game telling Connor that ‘This is your game,’” Michigan State co-offensive coordinator Dave Warner said. “We went into this game different than we went into the previous couple of games. I think that helped him from a confidence stand point, and he seemed to settle in and be pretty relaxed and make plays.”
Cook led an offense that had been outscored by its defense 24 to 12 through two weeks of the season, to 35 first half points — 24 of which he was accountable for. The 6-foot-4, 228-pound quarterback made an array of plays with his arm and legs, and finished the first half completing 14 of 21 passes for 191 yards and four touchdowns. Cook became the first MSU quarterback to throw four touchdowns in a game since Brian Hoyer’s 2007 performance vs. Penn State.
“I feel like I’ve gotten better each week, ” Cook said. “From Western to USF to now, the confidence is just growing. It’s growing in practice, it’s growing in games, and then just today when Coach D (Dantonio) said that I’m going to be the guy, and I’m going to get the majority of the reps, and I shouldn’t worry about any other QB’s going in, that kind of just took control and really reassured me, and made me believe in myself. It really let me establish that rhythm early.”
Due to the Spartans huge lead, Cook only saw one series in the second half before being replaced by redshirt freshman Tyler O’Connor. He finished the game 15 of 22 for 202 yards (first 200-yard game of career) and four touchdowns.
According to Michigan State head coach Mark Dantonio, Cook’s performance was enough to momentarily end the quarterback carousel that had been the focus of attention for the past month.
“Connor Cook is the number one quarterback,” Dantonio said after the victory. “It’s no longer a competition.”
Having the confidence and trust of the coaching staff was key for Cook heading into today’s game, and knowing that he was the guy allowed him to settle in early.
“It’s just reassuring knowing that I could find my rhythm, whether it’s in the first quarter or second quarter, I think I found my rhythm pretty early tonight,” Cook said. “Just like the last couple games, it’s just kind of hard to find a rhythm when you’re working with two other QB’s or another QB, so it was just really reassuring.”
While it sounds like Dantonio and staff may have finally found a clear-cut starter, we can only assume that it’s for the time being.
When you’re winning it’s a little easier to be satisfied with the product on the field. However, we won’t know how sure Dantonio is of his decision to end the quarterback competition until Cook messes up, and then we will see how long his leash really is.