East Lansing — As the seconds winded down at Spartan Stadium on Saturday, Michigan State had its game against Indiana well in hand.
It was at that point walk-on quarterback Tommy Vento mentioned to Connor Cook that the Spartans' quarterback was 2 yards shy of matching the single-game passing record of 400 yards established by Bill Burke in 1999.
"Yeah, Tommy Vento told me on the sidelines and I was heated. I was so mad," Cook joked. "I'm like, 'I want to break that record so bad.' I was begging. I'm like, 'Can we just go in for one hitch route or something?' No, I'm joking when I say that.
"I don't care. As long as we win, I can throw for 15 yards and we win and I'd be happy. I just wanna win."
Cook has done plenty of that over the years, compiling a 31-3 record as Michigan State's starter. And on Saturday against an upset-minded Indiana team, it was Cook who was the star of the show.
He threw for 398 yards, a career-high, and four touchdowns to lead No. 7 Michigan State to a 52-26 victory in front of 74,144 at Spartan Stadium.
It's what the Spartans (8-0, 4-0 Big Ten) have come to expect from their quarterback, who also moved into No. 2 in Michigan State history with 64 career touchdown passes, leaving him two behind Kirk Cousins.
"Obviously, Connor has done great things for us through the years," co-offensive coordinator Dave Warner said. "Like today when we were not running the ball as well as we would have liked to, we were able to ask him to put the team on his shoulders and carry us and he really did that through three quarters. He had some help at the wide receiver position, but Connor has been money. He's played good for years around here and the last two weeks he's been phenomenal."
Cook has now thrown for more than 300 yards in three straight games, getting wins over Rutgers and Michigan before leading the Spartans against the Hoosiers.
Michigan State co-offensive coordinator Dave Warner and QB Connor Cook discuss the victory over Indiana.
He's been a different player than he was early in the season, and with the final four games coming with the Big Ten East title up for grabs, Cook said he feels as good as he has all season.
"I felt like I was on the money," Cook said. "I felt like the ball was coming out of my hand (better) ever since the Rutgers game. I felt like I've been throwing the ball differently. I don't know what it was, I feel like the ball is coming out better — the release, the spiral, everything. So I've got to continue doing what I'm doing.
"I just felt like I was in a zone."
That much was clear in the first half when Cook threw for 260 yards, hitting R.J. Shelton with a 22-yard touchdown pass and adding an 11-yarder to Aaron Burbridge late in the second quarter.
Indiana quarterback Nate Sudfeld, however, was matching Cook and had two scoring strikes of his own to Ricky Jones for 11 yards and Simmie Cobbs for 37 yards. Each team added running touchdowns — Delton Williams had a 1-yarder for MSU and Jordan Howard scored from 5 yards out for Indiana — and only a missed Indiana extra point was the difference as the Spartans led, 21-20, at halftime.
Michigan State opened the second half with a 58-yard kickoff return from Shelton, and the Spartans turned it into a 28-20 lead with 11:07 left in the third quarter thanks to Cook's third touchdown pass, this one a 13-yarder to tight end Josiah Price.
Indiana (4-4, 0-4) wasted little time in finding the end zone again. The Hoosiers went 75 yards in just 1:22, finishing with a 3-yard pass from Sudfeld to Andre Booker with 9:45 left in the third quarter. Another missed extra point made it 28-26, but that was it for Indiana.
MSU will take it easy during the bye week.
The Michigan State defense started getting stops and Cook added his second touchdown pass to Shelton, this one a 10-yarder with 4:57 left in the fourth quarter, a touchdown that followed a 21-yard field goal from Michael Geiger.
Indiana then turned the ball over on downs, leading to a 26-yard touchdown run from LJ Scott with 2:17 left in the game. Indiana then fumbled the ensuing kickoff and it was recovered by Michigan State.
Two plays later, Gerald Holmes scored on a 22-yard run, creating a one-sided look to the scoreboard.
"We've had the No. 1 team and the No. 4 team (close) in the fourth quarter, and played pretty good football," said Indiana coach Kevin Wilson, referring to his team's seven-point loss earlier this season to Ohio State. "You're seeing a lot of good football, but the defense finally wore down. … Our defense wears down because we don't get stops. I don't like moral victories, but it shows we're going toe-to-toe with some pretty good teams.
"A lot of credit should go to Michigan State — they're a tremendous team. They're really good in all phases, so congrats to their team."
Burbridge finished with eight catches for 128 yards, his third straight game over the 100-yard mark and his sixth this season, while Macgarrett Kings Jr. had seven catches for 69 yards and Shelton had six grabs for 76 yards. Scott ran 68 yards on just 11 carries while Holmes had 39 yards on 10 carries, combining to put the game away late.
A week off might be the only thing to slow this offense, but it's a welcome break for the Spartans who turned what was a close game into a blowout.
"We know how to win," Michigan State coach Mark Dantonio said. "The bottom line is we know how to win here. We've learned how to win close games and in this case, sort of distance ourselves. The culture exists here where we expect to win. That's the biggest thing. We expect to win and there is a confidence level.
"We certainly didn't play our best football, but we've got enough players playing extremely good football to stay in games with everybody and make enough plays to win a football game."