October 12, 2013 at 10:29 pm

Terry Foster

Offense is turning Michigan State into a contender in Big Ten

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East Lansing — Michigan State running back Jeremy Langford was trapped between two defenders on a crucial third-and-2 late in the third quarter.

But he kept his legs churning and suddenly he was in the open field hearing the cheers of an excited homecoming crowd at Spartan Stadium. Thirty two yards later he celebrated in the end zone for his third touchdown of the day, capping the Spartans’ 42-28 victory over the Indiana Hoosiers.

On the 500th game at Spartan Stadium before thousands of old-school alumni, MSU returned to its roots. The Spartans ran the football effectively, played decent defense against a pesky Hoosiers offense and nuzzled its way into Big Ten title contention.

We are no longer talking quarterback ineptitude. We are talking quarterback attitude because Connor Cook is walking around like the big man on campus.

Michigan State looks like a normal football team again after looking awfully shaky in the non-league season.

“I knew coming into the season we were going to have to do some different things,” MSU coach Mark Dantonio said. “We were going to have to have a little bit of an evolution. Sometimes change takes some time. You have to understand some of the problems you are going to have. You keep trying to push through. We tried to stay positive with our guys and when it does turn it was going to turn in a big way. And today was an indication of that.”

It has an offense that moves the ball like a normal offense and a defense that stops people most of the time like an above-normal defense.

Irresistable force

Do not flip out on the defense too much despite its giving up 28 points and 351 yards of total offense. Indiana is going to do that against any Big Ten team. The Hoosiers are going to put up big offensive numbers on their return trip to the state at Michigan next week. They are a team that is pesky but not strong enough to beat teams like the Spartans and Wolverines.

It is refreshing to come to MSU and not write about how terrible the quarterbacks are because the quarterback carnival that threatened to derail this team is now over. Cook is not the second coming of Tom Brady. He might not be the second coming of Brian Hoyer, but he is good enough for what this team needs as the clock begins clicking on the monster November that will define the Spartans season.

He passed for 235 yards and two touchdowns and spread the ball to 11 receivers. And there is one more part of his game that excites coaches. They claim he is a runner and Dantonio predicts 100-yard rushing games in his future.

“It’s totally different now,” Cook said. “Before I wasn’t really trusting my offensive line as much and I would rush throws. I threw off my back foot, even quick throws I would rush. I did a better job of trusting my offensive line and letting routes develop.”

Lofty goals remain for the Spartans. After the IU blowout before 73,815 faithful, the Spartans get two more cupcake platters against Purdue and Illinois before the real season begins. The Spartans (5-1 overall, 2-0 in the Big Ten) play Michigan at home and hit the road to Nebraska and Northwestern.

Those are the games that will define the Spartans.

Diversity

We can talk defense and quarterbacks and Spartans pride all we want. But the key to MSU is what it does on the ground. Langford had a nose for the end zone, rushing for 109 yards on 23 carries. It was his first career 100-yard rushing game and this cannot be a one-hit wonder if MSU wants to nuzzle itself next to Ohio State in the Big Ten championship game.

MSU pounded IU on drives of 83, 60, 75, 75, 65 and 73 yards during a nice mix of run (238 yards) and pass (235). In all the Spartans recorded 473 yards of total offense which is becoming more of the norm than the unexpected.

But this good vibe on offense must continue. MSU is less predictable now because Cook is comfortable behind the line and they have a nice blend of tailbacks in Delton Williams (power), Langford (slasher) and Nick Hill (quick) that will make defenses uncomfortable.

And receivers are hanging onto the ball now.

“It’s easier for me to call plays,” MSU offensive coordinator Dave Warner said. “There are a lot of plays to choose from when the running game is working.”

This isn’t the second coming of the greatest show on turf. But all the offense has to be is above average for MSU to challenge for a Big Ten title. It is getting there, which makes the Spartans dangerous and menacing.

Terry.Foster@detroitnews.com

Jeremy Langford sprints into the end zone for a touchdown and quarterback Connor Cook is already signaling the score. / Dale G. Young / Detroit News
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