Quarterbacks coach Brad Salem says Connor Cook had a difficult week leading up to the Purdue game. (Dale G. Young / Detroit News)
East Lansing ó After last week's victory over Purdue, Michigan State defensive coordinator Pat Narduzzi said his unit didn't have its best week of practice despite pitching a shutout against the Boilermakers.
The Spartans started slowly but made the proper adjustments and dominated the second half of the game.
Quarterbacks coach Brad Salem feels the same way about Connor Cook. The sophomore had thrown for just 33 yards early in the fourth quarter before leading a touchdown drive and helping run out the clock in the final minutes.
Salem admitted he was a little surprised after Cook played well the previous two weeks, but said Cook had a difficult week leading up to the Purdue game.
"The biggest thing is some things can carry over," Salem said on Wednesday as Michigan State prepared to play at Illinois on Saturday. "He didnít throw as well in practice and he knew that. He had some tough practices and showed some frustration that way. But this week, obviously, he's throwing the ball much better."
Cook and Salem agreed Cook's problems with accuracy during the Purdue game weren't strictly mechanics.
"Sometimes it may not look mechanical but do you throw with conviction?" Salem said. "When you look at the route at the end of the game, on the second to last drive to Macgarrett (Kings), he stepped in and fired the ball."
That drive led to the offense's only touchdown, a number they expect to improve on this week as Cook continues to gain confidence. Much of that confidence, Salem believes, is instilled by not making a change when Cook is struggling.
"Part of it is you want to still breed confidence in the guy that's in," he said. "As coaches you talk about the situation and you're like, let's hang with him and then get after him and talk to him on the sideline and say, 'Hey, you gotta step up.' Can he grow from it and can he respond to adversity? He did at the end and I think that's a positive thing for Connor and for us.
"He made a couple throws at the end and regrouped himself. But you need consistency out of the position and he knows it, so it's been a very good work week so far."
Defensive line coach Ron Burton said Lawrence Thomas continues to work his way back into the playing rotation, reiterating how the missed time early in the year has him behind others on the depth chart.
"When it's time, he'll be on the field," Burton said. "He's a great athlete. We've gotta find where our weaknesses are and where we need him based on our situation and make him a team player. That's what he's being right now."
While Thomas is on the depth chart as a defensive end, he could see his first action at tackle with senior Tyler Hoover's status in question. Hoover left the Purdue game in the second half and Burton said Hoover has been limping around.
If Hoover can't play, Burton said Thomas could join the rotation that includes Micajah Reynolds, Damon Knox and Mark Scarpinato.