EAST LANSING, Mich. — The only place where you’d see more overthrows than at Spartan Stadium would be in Central and South America, where they do that to governments rather than receivers.
Michigan State quarterback Connor Cook overthrew receivers at an alarming rate for the first three quarters Saturday. He threw over or beyond at least five open receivers, and underthrew three more against Purdue’s soft coverage.
There was no reason for it. Very few of the passes came under even remote pressure because the Spartans’ offensive line provided Cook plenty of time.
Cook came to life in the fourth quarter, however, to hit a wide open Macgarrett Kings Jr. for 25 yards on a third-and-11 and pumped a screen pass to tight end Josiah Price for 26 yards.
That set up the score in the middle of the fourth quarter that finally gave the four-touchdown favorite Spartans the 14-0 lead that held up as the final score.
The Boilermakers had allowed more points than anybody in the Big Ten — 37.8 per game — but the Spartans could manage only a 45-yard fumble recovery touchdown by linebacker Denicos Allen before the final quarter.
That’s when wide receiver Tony Lippett threw a five-yard touchdown pass to tight end Andrew Gleichert off a reverse handoff, and the spiral was tighter than any Cook threw all day.
Lippett, you should know, threw for 2,006 yards and 17 touchdowns as a senior at Detroit Crockett, but he won’t be starting a quarterback controversy.
Tyler O’Connor might be doing that. MSU coach Mark Dantonio had him warming up right before Cook engineered the touchdown drive.
Was Dantonio thinking of making a change?
“There was a little bit of thought,” Dantonio said. “I’ll be honest with everybody because, as we move forward, you have to win the football game. I wanted to stay with Connor Cook. I forced that issue a little bit.
“But we stayed the course…I think it’s important. It shows we have confidence in him. It also shows that we are going to make moves if we have to. It’s a team game.”
This was no great show of confidence. If Cook hadn’t gotten it together on that drive, O’Connor would’ve gotten a chance.
“I saw him warming up,” Cook told a group of reporters afterward.
Dantonio had yanked him for that drive late in the fourth quarter at Notre Dame, inserting 2012 starter Andrew Maxwell for a possession that went nowhere. This time, with a 7-0 lead, he opted to stay with Cook.
Cook chose to be a glass-half-full guy, saying, “That just means the coaches believe in me and have faith in me.”
Perhaps it was much like a starting pitcher realizing somebody was warming up in the bullpen. He used it to motivate himself into results, and there’s nothing wrong with that.
But there was plenty wrong with his footwork.
“It was all footwork,” Cook said. “My feet weren’t really underneath me, and I needed to step into the target more. I’ll watch the film and it’s all correctable.”
His form was a mess.
Cook was 9-of-19 for 33 yards entering the fourth quarter. He hadn’t completed a pass for more than eight yards at that point and had missed everything except the proverbial broad side of the barn.
He rebounded to complete four of his last six passes for 69 yards to finish 13-of-25 for 107 yards.
Spartans co-offensive coordinator Dave Warner said he went to some “quick passes” and then shouldered some blame by saying he could’ve been better at play-calling. That’s just covering for your player, however, which is honorable.
The bottom line is, Warner simplified matters for Cook, and it worked. But it’s not going to work much against a quality opponent.
MSU was able to get away with the off-target day by Cook because Purdue isn’t very good. The Boilermakers (1-6) are the only Big Ten team with fewer than two victories, and thier lone win came in a squeaker over Indiana State.
Somehow, it should be noted, Purdue gave Notre Dame a game.
Cook had rebounded from his lackluster performance at Notre Dame, throwing for 277 yards at Iowa and 235 against Indiana, with a combined four touchdowns and two interceptions.
Saturday was a step backward.
“It was very disappointing,” Warner said of the passing game. “We talked all week about not being satisfied with a couple good performances and the need to take it to the next level and step forward. And we didn’t do that today.
“We’ll keep working on it. We’ll be OK.”
There were no alibis given by Cook.
“I’ve got to be mentally tough,” he said. “But my confidence is still high.”
Cook said all the right things after the game but is only penciled in as the starter now.
It’s up to him to make sure Dantonio doesn’t pull out the eraser.