Takeaways from MSU win: Cook was hot, running game not

Matt Charboneau
The Detroit News

What went right

Connor Cook was outstanding once again for the Spartans, throwing for 398 yards and four touchdowns, the third straight game he has gone over the 300-yard mark. He ended just two yards shy of matching the single-game record at Michigan State, a mark held by Bill Burke, who threw for 400 yards in a victory over Michigan in 1999. Cook also ran for 40 yards, his official total dropping to 18 yards because of four sacks that totaled 22 yards. His receivers were also on top of their game. Senior Aaron Burbridge had eight catches for 128 yards and a touchdown, his third straight game surpassing the 100-yard mark and sixth this season. Junior R.J. Shelton had six catches for 76 yards and two touchdowns, all career highs. And senior Macgarrett Kings Jr. had seven grabs for 69 yards as junior tight end Josiah Price had a touchdown catch. The defense had its struggles in the first half and through the first part of the third quarter, but they came up big late in the game, forcing two punts, a missed field goal and a turnover on downs to close the game. Special teams even had their share of big moments. Shelton had a 58-yard kick return to set up a scoring drive while junior Michael Geiger was good on his only field-goal attempt and redshirt freshman punter Jake Hartbarger had a 56-yard punt.

MSU moves up to No. 6 in AP Top 25; UM stays at No. 15

What went wrong

The running game had all sorts of issues, and much of it can be attributed to the fact Indiana stacked the box. But the offensive line continued to battle through injuries and inconsistent play. Tackle Jack Conklin missed a few plays with what looked like a hand injury while sophomore Brian Allen was replaced at center by junior Benny McGowan. There was plenty of shuffling up front, but the Spartans didn’t run well until late in the game. LJ Scott had 68 yards on 11 carries while Gerald Holmes gained 39 yards on 10 carries. They both scored, as did Delton Williams, but the backfield continues to be a committee with Madre London likely returning after the bye. The secondary had its issues again, giving up several big plays, including a 37-yard touchdown pass from Nate Sudfeld to Simmie Cobbs late in the first half. Four different cornerbacks played, including true freshman Tyson Smith, while five different safeties saw action. The special teams, while better overall, weren’t perfect. A field-goal attempt in the first half never was kicked because of a high snap.

Key developments

While the running back rotation continues to be a work in progress, it appears the secondary will be going with more of a group approach, too. After true freshmen Grayson Miller and Khari Willis got the bulk of the work at safety in the win over Michigan, they were joined by several others this week, including sophomore Montae Nicholson, redshirt freshman Matt Morrissey and junior Mark Meyers, who played for the first time since getting suspended after the season-opener against Western Michigan. At cornerback, Demetrious Cox was the only constant as fifth-year senior Arjen Colquhoun, junior Jermaine Edmondson and Smith all played.

Most telling quotes

Coach Mark Dantonio on the week off: “Well I told them this past week on Tuesday that one of two things are going to happen. We're not practicing next week, we're going to work. Our work time will still be the same; we're just not throwing on helmets and shoulder pads. … So one of two things are going to happen, we're either going to win the game, and I'll give you a week off or we'll lose the game and I'm not going to want to see you.”

Indiana coach Kevin Wilson on Connor Cook: “He throws to covered receivers in reasonably tight coverage, but he puts the ball where he gives his guy a chance. If you were to talk to a pro scout or coach they would talk about challenged throws. When the guy is really getting challenged he throws it at his player where he can make a play on the ball.”

QB Connor Cook: “The things that I've been able to accomplish while playing here, I would've never been able to imagine if you would've told me coming out of high school. If you would've told me in my true freshman year, my redshirt freshman year, I would've said that you're crazy. I am so blessed, so fortunate to have played on such great teams.”

LT Jack Conklin on bye week: “It couldn't have come at a better time. We are beat up. We're getting healthy. We've gotten almost everybody back. Hopefully, we'll have everybody back for the Nebraska game. I'm excited. With the depth we've created because of the injuries, we're going to have that 9-to-10 man rotation back that we've had in the past years (on the offensive line). That's exciting. Those young guys have stepped up in a time of need and were able to get the job done and get those wins, putting us in the place of being 8-0.”

LB Jon Reschke: “We stepped up. We knew we had to. We knew the fate of the game was on the defense because we were winning going into halftime. We really had to step up and make plays. The defensive backs did a great job this game. They played great against the deep ball and, in my opinion, did a great job.”

What’s next

The Spartans have been almost desperate for a week off and they’ll get one now with several players on the verge of returning. Most notably, center Jack Allen and running back Madre London should be back after the bye while plenty of others who are far from 100 percent get a break. Michigan State will need it with a game at Nebraska awaiting its return, followed by the showdown with Ohio State two weeks later in Columbus.