Spartans stay strong vs. Terps after Connor Cook leaves with injury
With Connor Cook on the sideline wearing a headset, Michigan State eased its way through the second half against Maryland.
The Spartans didn’t really need their star quarterback on this day. Next weekend is a different story.
"Connor will be all right," coach Mark Dantonio said. "I think he could have gone, but he felt like if he threw it hard, it would set him back."
Cook left the game at halftime with a shoulder problem, putting a bit of a damper on No. 14 Michigan State’s 24-7 victory over Maryland on Saturday, but the senior quarterback didn’t sound too concerned about his availability for next weekend’s showdown at Ohio State.
"I just landed on it funny," Cook said. "I probably could have gone. But Coach D just wanted to keep me on the sideline for precautionary purposes."
The Spartans (9-1, 5-1 Big Ten) have been dealing with injuries all season, particularly on the offensive line and in the secondary, but if Cook is limited, Michigan State could be a significant underdog against the unbeaten Buckeyes.
Even with Cook out, Maryland (2-8, 0-6) didn’t pose much of an upset threat. The Terrapins turned the ball over five times.
"We win and lose as a team. As I’ve told the defense, they’ve really given us opportunities to be in games against some really, really good teams the last few weeks," Maryland interim coach Mike Locksley said. "They’ll keep doing that for the rest of the season and now I’ve got to get the offense going and the kicking game going to hold up to their end of the bargain."
Cook hurt himself during the first quarter, and although he came back in the game for a bit, backup Tyler O’Connor played the second half.
Cook was only 6 of 20 for 77 yards with an interception in the first half. O’Connor finished the game 6 of 11 for 44 yards with a touchdown and an interception.
Maryland’s passing game wasn’t any better. The Terrapins came into the week having thrown the most interceptions (25) in Division I, and they added three to that total against Michigan State, which is 13th in the CFP ranking. Perry Hills was 14 of 30 for 140 yards with an interception, and Caleb Rowe had two of his five attempts picked off.
O’Connor actually played a bit before Cook’s injury, throwing a 10-yard touchdown pass to Macgarrett Kings to open the scoring. Dantonio wanted to get the backup quarterback some work with the regular season winding down, although he didn’t tell O’Connor beforehand.
"I was about as caught off guard as you guys were," O’Connor said. "Maybe it was a trial version just to make sure I’d be ready in case that were to happen."
Moments later, O’Connor indeed had to go back in on short notice. Maryland tied it at 7 on a 1-yard scoring run by Brandon Ross, then Cook left the game during Michigan State’s next series with his right arm dangling by his side — he’d been knocked down by Maryland’s Jesse Aniebonam while throwing a pass.
Cook began throwing a bit on the sideline and was back in the game on the Spartans’ next possession, but the senior wasn’t particularly effective for the rest of the half.
Almost the entire second quarter was played in Maryland territory, but Michigan State didn’t take the lead back until Riley Bullough scored on a 44-yard interception return with 2:07 left in the half. After another interception, the Spartans kicked a field goal to go into the locker room up 17-7.
Gerald Holmes scored on a 3-yard run in the third quarter for Michigan State, which rebounded from its last-second loss at Nebraska the previous weekend but now faces a number of new questions before taking on Ohio State. Cook has thrown for 21 touchdowns and only four interceptions this season, and the Spartans probably need a big game from him next weekend if they’re going to pull off an upset.