Connor Cook says Salem not leaving for better job

Matt Charboneau
The Detroit News

Dallas — With so much talk over the last few days about defensive coaching changes at Michigan State, there has been one potential move that has gone almost overlooked.

Last week there were reports that Michigan State quarterbacks coach Brad Salem was drawing interest from Vanderbilt to be its offensive coordinator. And there was also the possibility he could follow defensive coordinator Pat Narduzzi to Pittsburgh.

"Next question," Narduzzi said on Sunday when asked if he had talked to any offensive staffers about making the move.

But any idea that a change could still come were put to rest by junior quarterback Connor Cook on Monday.

"I know there had been talk that he got offered the OC job at Vanderbilt, but I wouldn't expect him to leave," Cook said during the Spartans' media session at the Omni Hotel in preparation for Thursday's Cotton Bowl matchup with Baylor. "I'm not really worried about that."

Cook had been asked if his decision to return for his senior season would have changed if Salem was no longer with the Spartans. While Cook said it wouldn't, he also got the chance to praise a coach who has been integral in his development.

"I would easily say Coach Salem is my favorite coach I've ever had playing the game of football," Cook said, adding his fifth-grade coach in that group. "He is like a father figure a little bit. You can literally talk to him about anything, whether it's school, personal life, girlfriends, family ... whatever it is, you can talk to him about anything. He is just a super-nice guy.

"He knows so much about the game, whether it's defense or offense. He's a teacher of the game. Every time I step into that meeting room it's like high school and getting educated. He is an educator. He's a great guy and has been there every step of the way for me and coaching me up. He's always coaching me up even off the practice field, in my ear telling me what I have to do, what I haven't done, whatever it is. He's always there providing insight and making me the best quarterback I can be."

Salem is in fifth season with Michigan State and was the running backs coach the first three seasons before taking over the quarterbacks last year. Before that, he was the head coach at Division III Augustana College.

Tall challenge

Baylor got some good news Monday when junior defensive end Shawn Oakman said he was returning for his senior season.

At 6-foot-9 and 280 pounds, Oakman is a menacing figure to opponents and has turned that into 10 sacks and 181/2 tackles for loss this season. He has also said he had plans to punish Cook and the Spartans on Thursday.

When Cook was asked about Oakman's thoughts, he was pretty clear about what he had on his side.

"I think I got two words, I got Jack Conklin," Cook said.

Conklin, of course, is the second-team All-Big Ten left tackle who has allowed only 11/2 sacks this season and controlled Ohio State's Joey Bosa earlier in the season.

It's the sort of comfort Cook has when he drops back in the pocket.

"Everyone knows the defense's goal is to sack the quarterback, to get stops, to punish the offense," Cook said. "I'm not intimidated and never really get intimidated, no matter what they say, no matter who they are. I get up for it, I get excited, but I didn't hear what he was saying."

Even so, Oakman provided a real test for the Spartans.

"He's huge," left guard Travis Jackson said. "I don't think I've seen 6-9. The Oregon guys were kind of tall, but 6-9 might be a new one for us. You want to go against the best competition, and you want to go against the best in the country. That's what Shawn Oakman is."

Lippett ready to go

Tony Lippett won't have to play another game for Michigan State after Thursday, so the possibility of playing more than 100 snaps sounds fine with him.

"Coach D brought it to me he wanted me to play offense and defense in the ball game just like I played the last two weeks of the season," the fifth-year senior said. "I mean, it's my last game here, so I just said 'that's right.' Let's get out there and get it done. I'm a competitor. And I feel like I can go out there and compete and have fun and play with confidence."

Lippett was the Big Ten's Receiver of the Year, catching 60 passes for 1,124 yards and 11 touchdowns. He also started the last two games at cornerback, a spot he hadn't played since his redshirt freshman season of 2011.

He'll be tested against the fast-paced Baylor offense.

"It's definitely going to be a challenge," he said. "They've got some great wide receivers. They've got a great offense and it's up-tempo, fast tempo. It's definitely going to be a big challenge for me."