East Lansing — Through the early part of the second quarter Saturday, Connor Cook wasn't exactly in a rhythm throwing the ball.
Michigan State's sophomore quarterback was missing open receivers, and it appeared the questions about his consistency were starting to become an issue once again.
But throughout the season, Michigan State's coaches have talked about how resilient Cook has been. It was on display last week when he threw just one incompletion in a win over Illinois, which came after a bad game the week before against Purdue.
And with Saturday's game tied, 6-6, and the second quarter coming to a close, Cook displayed that resiliency in Michigan State's biggest game of the year, a 29-6 victory over Michigan. With the rain steadily falling and the Spartans' running game slow to get moving, Cook led his team on a 10-play, 75-yard drive that ended with a perfect throw to the corner of the end zone to Bennie Fowler.
The touchdown put Michigan State ahead 13-6 just before halftime, a lead it never relinquished.
"Like any quarterback going through his first year as a starter, you're going to have your ups and downs, but up until this point he's had a heck of a lot more ups than he has downs," offensive coordinator Dave Warner said. "Regardless of how he started out he's finished strong. No quarterback is going to be perfect, but he led us to scoring a handful of points. So we're happy he's playing the way he is right now."
Cook finished 18-for-33 for 252 yards and a touchdown. It was the fifth time this season Cook has thrown for more than 200 yards, and even a fourth-quarter interception mattered little with the Spartans' defense shutting down the Wolverines.
"I just went into this game with the main focus on being poised," Cook said. "No matter what was going to go on, early in the game, late in the game. I talked to some people and they just said to be poised. I thought I was resilient like I have been and I thought I remained poised throughout the whole game."
As Cook has become more confident under center, the entire offense has improved as well. After a difficult start to the season, the Spartans have been far better in Big Ten play, save for one bad week against Purdue.
The running game has been good each week and wide receivers Fowler and Tony Lippett have made huge strides.
All the while, Cook has led the way. And in the fourth quarter against the Wolverines, he helped put the game away with a 1-yard touchdown run.
"That's the best I've ever felt playing the game of football," Cook said. "The rivalry, the tradition, the way we physically beat Michigan, it just felt good."
Freshman kicker Michael Geiger could be forgiven if he was a bit rusty. After all, he hadn't even attempted a field goal since Michigan State's Big Ten opener against Iowa.
But he was solid against Michigan, nailing all three of his field-goal attempts, showing no problem in the biggest moment of his football career.
"No doubt it's something to build off of," Geiger said. "Definitely the biggest game I've played in, the most important kicks I've had so just use those and move forward.
"To be honest, in practice I think about it. Maybe a little anxious, 'Hey I haven't kicked in a while.' You might let self-doubt creep in, but the guys around us keep me motivated and they say, 'We're going to need you this weekend,' and keep reassuring me and I know that if I'm prepared I'll be able to execute."
He did so on Saturday and coach Mark Dantonio had only one complaint. When Geiger's extra point was blocked in the fourth quarter, he grabbed the ball and was stuffed for no gain.
"I had my first carry for zero yards," Geiger said. "It was 48 more than Michigan, so it felt good."
After the victory, senior cornerback Darqueze Dennard said a couple of teammates were after defensive coordinator Pat Narduzzi with the Gatorade cooler.
When asked if he was looking to douse Dantonio, Dennard said he was saving one for the head coach. Asked when that might be, Dennard said it would come later in the year.
"Somewhere out in Cali," he said, smiling at the idea Michigan State's season would end in the Rose Bowl.
Michigan State's 23-point win marked the largest margin of victory in the series for the Spartans since a 34-0 shutout in Ann Arbor in 1967. It marked Michigan State's largest margin of victory over Michigan in Spartan Stadium since a 28-0 shutout in 1962.