'Everyone definitely has a lot of confidence,' sophomore quarterback Connor Cook (18) said. 'Week by week you can tell guys are getting more confident in their roles, especially the younger guys like Delton (Williams) and R.J. (Shelton). The vibe is different. Guys want to work hard.' (Dale G. Young / Detroit News)
East Lansing — Things have changed dramatically around Michigan State’s offense in recent weeks.
A unit that could barely get out of its own way the first few weeks has made a dramatic turnaround since Big Ten play began two weeks ago.
Consider the fact that in three of Michigan State’s first four games, the offense mustered one touchdown in each. And in the victory over South Florida, it threw for 94 yards, quarterbacks moved in and out of the lineup and receivers had trouble hanging on to the ball.
But against Iowa to open conference, Michigan State threw for 277 yards in the 26-14 victory.
And a week later in a victory over Indiana, Michigan State had 473 yards offense (235 passing).
“Everyone definitely has a lot of confidence,” sophomore quarterback Connor Cook said. “Week by week you can tell guys are getting more confident in their roles, especially the younger guys like Delton (Williams) and R.J. (Shelton). The vibe is different. Guys want to work hard.”
It has been sparked by more accurate passing from Cook, some playmaking from the receivers and consistent play from the offensive line.
But the idea of being content with their performance is something offensive coordinator Dave Warner is stressing his unit needs to avoid heading into Saturday’s matchup against Purdue.
“Just don’t get greedy and not be satisfied where we are at,” Cook said about Warner’s message. “We’re having success on offense and we’re doing really well and having great team wins, but not to be satisfied and want to be better.”
One player who has personified the increased confidence is wide receiver Tony Lippett.
The junior caught 36 passes last season, but played sparingly the first four games with his four receptions against Youngstown State his only production. But he worked his way back in the starting lineup against Iowa and had six catches against Indiana.
“He’s just sort of reaffirmed where he’s at,” coach Mark Dantonio said. “He’s regrouped. I think that’s what people do. I tried to encourage all of our football players after the Notre Dame game to sort of regroup, get things off their chest. … just rededicate yourself to your focus, and he’s played very well.”
Lippett took it to heart, and his first catch against Indiana was a tough one where he hung on to the ball deep in Hoosiers territory after taking a big hit.
“He was just telling me that I need to use my size, I need to play big, and I need to be aggressive,” said Lippett, who is 6-foot-3. ‘That’s one thing I took to heart. … I just had to re-evaluate myself and see what I’m good at, see what I’m bad at and see what I need to work on and then I just tried to work on it no matter what.”
As much as Cook has improved as a passer — he was 22-for-31 for 235 yards against Indiana — Dantonio believes Cook has the ability to be a productive runner.
“I think Connor can create and become a 100-yard rusher much like some other quarterbacks,” Dantonio said.
“Whether it’s running for 30 or 40 yards or scrambling three times for 20 or something of that nature as it naturally occurs. I don’t think we’re going to run him 18 times a game.”
Cook has a long run this season of 20 yards and has shown flashes while gaining 103 yards on 36 carries. But he isn’t planning on becoming a runner first.
“I’m not going to try to force anything,” Cook said. “I’m going to go through my reads, and if a play breaks down I’m going to scramble.”