Michigan State quarterback Connor Cook was 25-of-44 for 277 yards passing with 2 TDs in the Spartans' victory over the Iowa Hawkeyes last weekend. (Dale G. Young / Detroit News)
East Lansing — Confidence breeds confidence.
It’s been something Michigan State coach Mark Dantonio has been preaching for weeks, saying when his struggling offense started to turn things around, the sky would be the limit.
For the first four weeks, however, buying into that theory took a certain amount of faith. Aside from a big victory over Youngstown State in Week 3, the offense was unable to develop any sort of rhythm or consistency.
But after a 26-14 victory over Iowa last weekend to open the Big Ten, the offense is feeling looser heading into Saturday’s matchup against Indiana.
“I think you saw some of that start to happen last week,” Dantonio said. “Was it perfect? No, it wasn’t. We could have done better. ... There’s nothing going to be perfect about it in any sense.
“But I do feel like our players made a big step in the right direction. When you make a change as we made a change, it takes time to see that change come to fruition and for that person to have some success and confidence and those types of things.”
The player Dantonio was talking about was quarterback Connor Cook. The sophomore had yet to lock down the starting position, struggling with his accuracy and getting pulled late at Notre Dame.
But against Iowa, he was sharper, throwing for 277 yards and two touchdowns. Michigan State finished with 412 yards offense, its best output outside of the Youngstown State game.
“It was a boost in confidence being in a hostile environment like that against the second-best defense in the Big Ten,” Cook said. “It elevated everyone’s confidence, including mine. But we can’t be complacent and need to continue to build on it.”
As good as Cook was, he was aided by a receiving corps that finally had a breakout game.
Sophomore Macgarrett Kings Jr. continued to emerge with five catches for 94 yards and a touchdown, while senior Bennie Fowler, benched early, had a career-high nine catches for 92 yards and a touchdown.
It was the type of performance wide receivers coach Terrence Samuel believed was only a matter of time.
“You’re a proud coach when things go well for your guys,” he said. “You live and die with a lot of things that go on and people don’t recognize how much we’re invested in these guys and how much we care about them and we want them to succeed, every last one of them. I’m very proud of them, but we’ve got more work to do.”
Samuel said it was the best performance he’s seen from the receivers since the days of B.J. Cunningham and Keshawn Martin, and the emergence of Kings has had a lot to do with it.
“He’s playing aggressive and that’s probably the biggest thing,” Samuel said. “He’s playing out there to beat the DB. It’s really a pleasure to see that now he’s so confident and not worried about how he runs the route or what route he’s running. He’s just going out there trying to get himself open as fast as he can for the quarterback.”
Samuel said the fact Cook has settled in has helped, but added his players need to make a play on the ball regardless of who is throwing it.
“We’re gonna coach hard,” Samuel said. You don’t want to get them out of the groove by over-coaching it, but you want to make sure they understand the importance of the play.”