East Lansing — A few weeks ago, as Michigan State was in the midst of playing musical quarterbacks, coach Mark Dantonio declared he needed someone to “seize the opportunity.”
At that point, senior Andrew Maxwell and sophomore Connor Cook had each started games and redshirt freshman Tyler O’Connor had also played. But none of the three stood out and Dantonio was essentially pleading for one of them to provide a spark for the Spartans’ anemic offensive output.
After Saturday’s 26-14 victory over Iowa, Dantonio is convinced Cook, after four consecutive starts, has finally done that.
“Yeah, I do feel like that,” Dantonio said in his weekly teleconference Sunday evening. “I feel like he threw the ball effectively and was in control of the game. When he did throw the one interception, he didn’t get rattled, came back and was resilient. That’s really been his trademark. He’s been able to overcome when there has been a problem, go back in and play as if there hasn’t been one. You have to have a short memory in terms of bad plays and he was able to do that. I thought he had an impressive game.”
It was, by far, his best game as a Spartan.
Cook was 25-for-44 for 277 yards, all career highs, and added a pair of touchdown passes to Macgarrett Kings Jr. and Bennie Fowler.
“He had good touch on the football, he created, moved in the pocket and adjusted his drop a couple times and had a big scramble for a first down,” Dantonio said. “When you start looking at the 277 passing yards, the interception got tipped, a couple others were inches off the mark or we weren’t able to hang on to them. It very easily could have been a 300-yard performance.”
Cook didn’t do it all on his own, however. The wide receivers, who have carried as much blame as the quarterbacks for the offense’s issues, performed well against the Hawkeyes.
Fowler caught a career-high nine passes, good for 92 yards and a 37-yard touchdown, while Kings caught five for 94 yards and a 46-yard touchdown, using a downfield block from Fowler to go the final few yards.
The scoring passes were examples of the explosive plays the Spartans have been looking for all season.
“Both of them resulted in touchdown catches and it’s big,” Dantonio said. “And I said all along all along that when we do hit stride with our offense, there will be a little bit of — we’ll flourish — and I think that’s what’ll happen. We’ll become more confident and confidence breeds success. There’s no question in my mind if that’s the case.”
New force at RB
Dantonio said now that the redshirt has been pulled from freshman running back Delton Williams, he’ll start to see the field more often after carrying the ball nine times for 32 yards against Iowa.
“I think now the case is that we know he’s played; we know he will play,” Dantonio said, “and I think it’ll be more a sense of urgency to get him ready to play on his part and on our part.”
Dantonio said Williams and fellow freshman Gerald Holmes have shown steady improvement and he wanted a third back now that Riley Bullough will shift to fullback after making the move to tailback from linebacker last spring.
“He can always go in as a tailback as well,” Dantonio said, adding Bullough likely wouldn’t move back to defense at this point. “I think he can compete directly with (fullback) Trevon Pendleton who’s done a nice job, but we were one-deep at that position. Now at least we’re two-deep.”
Dantonio on Treadwell
Dantonio had some strong words for the administration at Miami (Ohio), who fired head coach Don Treadwell on Sunday after an 0-5 start to his third season. Treadwell was Michigan State’s offensive coordinator before taking the Miami job prior to the 2011 season and the two have been friends for years. Treadwell’s son, Blake, is also Michigan State’s starting left guard and Dantonio’s godson.
“I was saddened by it,” Dantonio said. “There is no question about that. And I think as we said the other day, I think we live in a fickle society. It’s all about winning. … And when you let go a person — this is the one guy that I know that’s had this happen that I have a personal relationship with — you don’t strengthen your football team when you do that. You weaken it. You leave a hole in the players’ hearts. You disable them in some respects.
“So it’s sad. It leaves a void in the leadership at Miami in my respect. I’m sure the AD won’t be the football coach this week.”
Indiana at Michigan State
Kickoff: Noon, Saturday, Spartan Stadium, East Lansing
Line: Michigan State by 9½
Records: Indiana 3-2 (1-0 Big Ten); Michigan State 4-1 (1-0 Big Ten)