September 14, 2013 at 1:00 am

Bob Wojnowski

Michigan State gets its offense cooking just in time

East Lansing After lightning delays, offensive delays and excitement delays, Michigan State could delay no longer. Its real season starts now, and Mark Dantonio picked a quarterback just in time.

Sophomore Connor Cook is the guy for now, after throwing four touchdown passes in Michigan States 55-17 rout of Youngstown State. Its hard to say one blasting of an FCS foe confirms Cook is the best on the roster, but a choice had to be made, and Ill say it again with the Spartans superb defense, theres no sense taking chances with someone risky.

The 3-0 Spartans head to Notre Dame with the quarterback competition over thankfully, if not permanently. This was a much-needed performance by a much-maligned offense against a much-outmanned opponent. Dantonio didnt panic and leap for the freshman unknown, because in the ebbs and throws of college football, nothing is more important than minimizing mistakes. Sometimes, just taking care of business is all thats necessary.

It was a great day for our offense, Dantonio said. Two things were evident to me that were extremely pleasing we made the difficult catch, we threw the ball with confidence and we had explosive plays. I dont care who you play against, its an indication we grew up a little bit, caught fire a little bit, and provided the spark that hopefully will ignite our offense.

Two things were evident? Dantonio was so excited to see 547 yards of offense, he listed about a half-dozen things. Hey, its understandable. After all the angst, there was relief the Spartans at least can go to Notre Dame with a quarterback who has started a couple of games.

Its just reassuring, Cook said. This was the first time where I was in and I was the main guy. When you know your coaches believe in you, you know your teammates believe in you, and you believe in yourself, it just makes you a lot more confident and not afraid to make mistakes.

Order established

At the quarterback position, you cant have too many Cooks in the kitchen, and Dantonio knows it. He wanted the competition to play out, but early last week, the choice was apparent. Cook was put in a position to shine and thats what he did, throwing four first-half touchdown passes and completing 15 of 22 against the Penguins. Hes 27-for-49 this season, without an interception.

Cook used variations of reassured several times in his news conference, and clearly, this was the time to settle everything down. With a dominant defense, youd prefer an offense that reassures rather than riles up.

Thats why Dantonio declined to use freshman Damion Terry, although the student section again was chanting his name before Cook took a snap. Dantonio confirmed hed prefer to redshirt Terry. Redshirt freshman Tyler OConnor played the second half and senior Andrew Maxwell watched, although I still think hes likely to be the relief guy, if necessary.

Situations change quickly in this goofy game, but Dantonio has options. Just a week ago, Michigan State didnt have a quarterback and Michigan had an increasingly celebrated one. Today, the Spartans feel a bit more comfortable, and the Wolverines have to feel a bit nervous.

If you want to dismiss the relevance because of the opponent, then you didnt watch Michigans messy 28-24 escape against Akron. Devin Gardner committed four turnovers and showed you can slip from hip to nearly Zipped in a hurry. It works the other way, too.

Well see if Cook turns out to be the right guy, but sticking with one guy is the right move by Dantonio. Hes no longer hedging and alternating, definitively declaring, Connor Cooks the No. 1 quarterback.

Big test coming

Cook isnt a traditional precision passer, but at 6-foot-4, he has a powerful arm and the mobility to create plays. He showed it in flashes when he helped rally Michigan State to a bowl victory over TCU. His crazy-legs running style reminds some of Drew Stanton, although thats a tad premature.

Connor played well, ran the ball effectively, made good checks at the line of scrimmage, Dantonio said. Hes a big strong physical guy with a rocket arm. Really, the thing hes lacked is long-term game experience, which he got (Saturday).

The quarterback competition didnt really reach the controversy stage, but it wasnt fully tested, either. It will be tested by the Fighting Irish and its always subject to change, but at least Cook is imbued with some confidence. It helped Michigan States offensive line looked good against Youngstown State, and Macgarrett Kings Jr. was among the receivers that finally made tough catches.

It also helps not to have quarterbacks lined up in a row, looking to see whos next.

We went into this game telling Connor its his game, co-offensive coordinator Dave Warner said. I think that helped him from a confidence standpoint, and he seemed to settle in and make plays. Hopefully its a taste of things to come.

This Michigan State season still will be defined by the defense, which is even better than last years. But theres a chance the Spartans arent cooked on offense after all, if Cook indeed is ready to take charge.

Spartans coach Mark Dantonio celebrates a first-quarter touchdown with his players on Saturday. / Dale G. Young / Detroit News