Cook sick over 1st-half pick, says he’s healthy

Tony Paul
The Detroit News

Arlington, Texas — Pointing to one play to blame for a 38-0 loss is like missing a putt to break 100.

In the end, it probably didn’t matter all that much.

Then again, that interception just before halftime of Thursday night’s Cotton Bowl sure felt deflating for Michigan State.

“We were kind of driving the ball down there,” senior center Jack Allen said. “Fast-tempo offense. Definitely, it kind of slows you down a little bit.”

Michigan State held tough in the first half, despite being outplayed.

It trailed 10-0 with 1:25 left, but was finally starting to show some life on offense.

Cook quickly found Aaron Burbridge for 12 yards, Gerald Holmes for 3 and R.J. Shelton for 12.

A sack then seemed to derail the drive, but Cook bounced right back to find Macgarrett Kings Jr. for 26 yards, and then Burbridge for 18 more to get to the 12.

Cook only completed 19 passes for the game, and five were on this drive.

But the killer came on the very next pass, another target to Burbridge — but it was picked off by Cyrus Jones. Michigan State went from envisioning being down 10-7 or even 10-3 to heading to halftime down 10-0, knowing Alabama was getting the ball to start the half.

“Interception was completely my fault,” Cook said. “They clouded to the boundary and a safety over the top. Either touchdown or incomplete. I just let it slide. Threw it short obviously. Completely my fault.”

The previous pass to Burbridge was a floater that only he could get to.

If the next pass to Burbridge had been a floater, he probably would have caught it for a score, but Cook seemed to rush it, throwing a liner, and Jones was right there to nab it.

It was one of two big highlights for Jones, who later returned a 57-yard punt for a touchdown.

Cook finished 19-for-39 for 210 yards in the College Football Playoff semifinal, the final game of his Michigan State career. The velocity seemed there, but the pinpoint location clearly was not — and some of his throws missed badly, especially in the first half.

But after the loss, he quickly shot down the notion his right shoulder — which caused him to miss the Ohio State game — was any issue.

If anything, it looked like rushing his throws was much more the issue, and it’s hard to blame him for the happy feet, as he was hit hard and often by some Alabama bruisers, especially in the first half.

“I was 100 percent. Shoulder felt the best it’s felt. There’s no procedure that needs to get done. There’s no surgery needed,” he said. “Back when I got the MRI, there was no structural damage. It was just a sprain. We’re not going to lie to the media and stuff like that.

“I’m not going to be out there playing on a shoulder that needed to be operated on. So, yeah, I’m fine.”

Cook, a three-year starter, finished his career with a 34-5 record, including back-to-back bowl victories over Stanford (Rose Bowl) and Baylor (Cotton Bowl).

There was no comeback against mighty Alabama, and even if that interception never happened, there probably still wouldn’t have been.

So coach Mark Dantonio wasn’t about to to harp on one play. He had nothing but praise for the most-decorated quarterback in MSU history.

“Connor Cook is a guy that can flip a game around. I’ve seen him do amazing things as a quarterback, pinpoint passing, throwing the ball in tight windows. Not a guy who’s thrown a lot of interceptions. Doesn’t turn the ball over. He’s creative, and he’s played very, very well in huge games,” Dantonio said. “So what’s he mean to our football program? He’s our quarterback that we’ve hung our hat on here for three years.”

The shutout was the first for Michigan State since well before Dantonio took over and just the third ever for Michigan State in a bowl game, first since the 1996 Sun Bowl, a 38-0 loss to Stanford — when the Spartans were coached by, of all people, current Alabama coach Nick Saban.

Michigan State got inside the 50 four times in the opening half, and came away with nothing.

So, again, it’s tough to pin this one on one play, even if it was a very big play at the time.

“Obviously, you want to score there, especially since we had a great drive,” junior offensive tackle Jack Conklin said. “In the last four bowl games we won, we were down double digits into the second half. We still believed we could do something.

“We didn’t do that. We’ve gotta live with that, and we will.”