Rutgers braces for Michigan State quarterback
Even after the Michigan State football team lost its three-year starter at quarterback when Kirk Cousins graduated and left for the NFL Draft at the end of the 2011 season, Mark Dantonio dug into his depth at the position for the next man up.
Cousins, now the starting quarterback for the Washington Redskins, left big shoes to fill. And after Dantonio found out that Andrew Maxwell wasn’t the answer in a down year for the Spartans in 2012, the head coach turned to a young sophomore to step up.
What happened from there was history.
Now in his senior year at Michigan State, Connor Cook has morphed into the second coming of Cousins, in a sense, throughout his career under center in East Lansing.
“Our quarterback, whether it’s been Connor Cook or Kirk Cousins, both of those guys have been the winningest guys in Michigan State history,” Dantonio said in the Big Ten coach’s Week 6 teleconference on Tuesday. “We’ve been able to surround them with quality players in a quality system.”
The No. 4 Spartans (5-0, 1-0) approach their Saturday night primetime meeting with the Rutgers football team with one of the most prolific passers in all of college football.
Simply put, Cook is a purebred winner. As ugly as last Saturday’s 24-21 nail-biting win to lowly Purdue (1-4, 0-1) might have been, Cook surpassed Cousins as Michigan State’s all-time leader in career wins with the victory.
Entering High Point Solutions Stadium this weekend, the senior signal-caller boasts a 28-3 record. That’s aside from the fact that Cook, who led Sparty to a 12-1 overall finish and Rose Bowl Championship in his first year under center as a sophomore, has been one of the most efficient passers in the nation.
Coupled with his 150.9 quarterback rating — top in the Big Ten in front of Rutgers sophomore quarterback Chris Laviano (148.5) — Cook boasts 10 touchdowns through the air to one interception on the season.
And according to Scarlet Knights interim head coach Norries Wilson, the defensive blueprint to contain the 6-foot-4, 220-pounder doesn’t stop there.
“The quarterback will stand in there and take a hit in the face — Connor Cook — and he can fit the ball into tight spaces,” Wilson said in the Big Ten coach’s Week 6 teleconference on Tuesday. "It looks like they try to give you something new every week. All of a sudden they’re running read zone with Connor Cook and he’s not scared to run it and they’re running power and counter, so there’s a lot of things to prepare for once they put it on film for a defense.”
Cook’s physicality presents problems for a Knights defense that will try to avoid lightning from striking twice.
When Rutgers (2-2, 0-1) faced off with Michigan State in last year’s 45-3 road blunder, Cook carved the Knights’ defense up for two touchdowns and 254 yards on 16-of-24 passing.
But even after the past result and as balanced as Sparty’s pro-style attack is in Cook’s hands, senior strong side linebacker Quentin Gause kept his defensive prognosis for Rutgers simple.
“It comes down to the team that has the least mistakes who’s gonna win the game,” Gause said. “So we’re definitely gonna have to be on-point and do our jobs.”
While he by no means lit it up last weekend against the Boilermakers, going 13-of-19 for 139 pass yards and one score, perhaps the gaudy numbers aren’t what ultimately define the winningest quarterback in Spartans history.
As far as Dantonio is concerned, those have never been a factor in his judgment of Cook.
“We saw everything we needed to see — a strong-arm guy with great growth potential, a good student, in a good league … could run and create, threw a great ball and had good release,” Dantonio said. “So we saw everything we needed to see.”
For updates on the Rutgers football team, follow @GarrettStepien and @TargumSports on Twitter.