Here’s a fun trivia question: name the last three Michigan State Spartans’ quarterbacks to beat the Iowa Hawkeyes at Kinnick Stadium in Iowa City.
Those who had Dan Enos, Kirk Cousins and Connor Cook, remain standing. As accomplished Spartan quarterbacks go lately, Enos and Cousins certainly rank pretty high. After proceeding over Saturday’s gutty 26-14 win in Iowa City, it’s beginning to look like Cook could be fining the confidence to start his own chapter to mimic two of his more noteable predecessors.
With plenty of questions coming in following a tough loss at Notre Dame in which Cook admitted his confidence was a bit shaken after being replaced late, the biggest series of gut checks would come against Iowa. It was the Big Ten opener against a defense perhaps tougher than the Fighting Irish possessed. There was a loud, homecoming environment promised, and, who could forget, the vaunted pink locker rooms.
This time, though, Cook wasn’t rattled by either outside noise or feminine color hue. He staked Michigan State to an early 10-0 lead by virtue of a beautiful rainbow throw on third down to Macgarrett Kings Jr. By collecting the 46 yard pass, Cook already had the Spartans’ longest pass play of the season out of the way. When adversity struck late in the half thanks to two Iowa touchdowns and the bottom looked to be falling out, a clutch response would be needed in the second half.
Immediatly after recess, enter Cook. The quarterback confidently hit passes of 7, 15, and 9 yards to his receiving targets before Bennie Fowler hauled in a 37 yard touchdown to quickly grab momentum back. The rest of the way, Cook would lead three more scoring drives to help Michigan State’s defense put away the anemic Hawkeyes with long field goals from freshman Michael Geiger.
Go ahead and close the quarterback competition for good this time. Cook’s road response after the disaster against Notre Dame showed heart, poise and confidence. The fact Cook can confidently lead the team in a hostile Big Ten road environment proved he was the man for the job. Despite the fact that Andrew Maxwell ran into a few such wins last season, none were as impressive as Cook’s start to finish performance against the Hawkeyes, which featured a mix of big plays and confidence along the way.
Now, there are tangible signs of improvement for Spartan fans to go on. Cook found his big targets in Kings Jr. and Fowler, each to the tune of 90 yard days through the air. He managed the game well, had 277 yards passing and showed the ability to keep plays alive with his legs. As far as a dynamic that the Spartans need, Cook finally provided it and more Saturday.
With every game he starts, Cook continues to grow in the role. Learning from his experience at Notre Dame, Cook managed to get the job done against a tough Iowa team. Suddenly, similarly rough games against Michigan, Northwestern and Nebraska shouldn’t seem as intimidating, especially with Cook’s knowledge that he’s been there and done that as far as facing physical teams in tough environments.
Cook’s second test was passed with flying colors, which can only be counted as fantastic news as far as his development is concerned.
Laugh Of The Week: The Michigan Wolverines covered their 19.5 line against Minnesota with relative ease on Saturday given a few big plays late, showing some of the experts (present company included) how little they know about sports predictions. Last week on the Detroit Sports Show, both Andrew Tomlinson and I passed on taking the Wolverines at that high line number in our picks, given all their offensive and turnover problems prior to the bye week. Shows you how much we know, once again.
Local Big Ten This Week
Michigan at Penn State
Michigan State vs. Indiana
Players To Watch:
Michigan: Devin Gardner, QB. After having a solid performance against Minnesota that was spotless as far as backbreaking turnovers goes, Gardner must head back on the road to a tough environment at Penn State. In his last road game against Connecticut, he had his worst game, making several mistakes under pressure. The Nittany Lions might not be much better than UConn this season, but their home environment is certainly capable of being tough on an opposing quarterback. If the Wolverines are to win, Gardner will have to be a solid game manager and avoid costly mistakes while making some big plays himself.
Michigan State: Max Bullough, LB. The emotional and mental leader of the Spartan defense has a big challenge this week. Michigan State must shift from game planning for the straight ahead attack of Iowa for the fast paced, wide open spread attack of Indiana. At the linebacker position, it will be very important for Bullough to stay composed in the face of much speed and movement. If Bullough and company manage to have a good effort against the Hoosiers, it will be as much a testament to their midweek focus as their athletic skill, considering all the change in two week’s time.
#16 Michigan 5-0 (1-0 Big Ten Legends)
Michigan State 4-1 (1-0 Big Ten Legends)
Max DeMara is a senior editor at The Detroit Sports Site. You can find him on Twitter @SportsGuyTheMax