Though it took until the late stages of the calender year, finally, Mark Dantonio and the Michigan State Spartans’ coaching staff made the bold move they had to make with their offense. In the process, they may have found a dependable answer at quarterback for the near future.
The Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl was getting downright embarrassing for Michigan State’s perpetually inconsistent offense. A 13-0 halftime deficit to TCU without much positive ball movement was par for 2012′s usual course, and the reasoning was familiar. Le’Veon Bell was getting stuffed on the ground and quarterback Andrew Maxwell couldn’t make enough capable throws to keep a defense honest or on its toes.
This time, though, instead of sticking with what didn’t work and damming the consequences, the Spartan coaching staff showed some real guts. Connor Cook, a redshirt freshman who had only completed five passes, started heating up. As soon as Cook was inserted into the game, good things happened that Spartan fans haden’t seen from their offense since January of 2012. Cook was able to make good throws at proper positions and create heady plays. He scrambled for first downs. He looked confident. 14 plays and 90 yards later, the Spartans had a touchdown to Aaron Burbridge and were back in the game.
After that, Cook’s character would quickly be tested. On his second drive, things that initially looked easy became tough. The first play from scrimmage was an ugly 11 yard sack, followed quickly by an incomplete pass and punt. When the Spartans took over again, Maxwell was back on the field, and quickly incurred an ugly three and out. Still, following a TCU punt return mistake deep within Horned Frogs territory, Maxwell took over once more, handing the ball off to Bell for the go-ahead score. He was back again a series later, but didn’t lead a confident drive.
This game of signal caller musical chairs could have ruined the psyche of a young player like Cook, but instead he managed to stay ready. Late in the game and needing at least a field goal to take the lead, Dantonio handed young Cook the keys to the season. Two confident completed passes later, Michigan State was in business. Following a few runs and a critical penalty, Cook had done just enough to get Dan Conroy in position for a 47 yard field goal. He nailed it, and the Spartans defense preserved a big win.
I’ve seen all I need to see. Entering 2013, Cook must be considered the favorite to become the Spartans’ starting quarterback. After igniting a comeback and performing confidently under pressure, how could he not be? In addition to sound fundamentals, Cook looked ready to lead, especially after rebounding impressively following a tough drive. At what point did Maxwell display that type of resilience in 2012? Perhaps only in the fourth quarter and overtime in Madison, Wisconsin. That game should have served as a launching pad for a better finish to Maxwell’s season, but instead he did little with that momentum the rest of the year.
Instead, Cook looks to be the player poised to take advantage of some extra practice time and confident game reps. By asserting himself, he’s now endeared by legions of Spartan fans who’ll call for him to start next fall. There’s nothing wrong with that, and Dantonio would be wise to listen to their initial pleas and hold a competition. Some quarterbacks just seem to have moxie for the job. Everyone found out in short order that Kirk Cousins was that kind of player in 2009 when he grabbed the job by the reigns, and Cook showed the right signs of doing much the same in Tempe. You can’t simply stash that type of player on the bench once you see glimpses of what could be.
Now, Cook must do his part in the offseason to take more steps towards turning the shaky Maxwell into Wally Pipp. His continued development will fall into his own hands, and nothing will be given away by Dantonio. Cook should receive a few early bonus points, however, for opening eyes and calmly leading Michigan State to their second consecutive bowl victory. That’s nothing to sneeze at.
Credit icy performances across the board by Cook, Dantonio and his offensive staff for making next season’s quarterback conversation just a tiny bit more tangy.