EAST LANSING – He came up a couple yards short of the Michigan State single-game passing record, but Connor Cook may find himself first on a lot of lists by the time this run is through.
He might be the top quarterback in the next NFL draft. He might be the best quarterback in MSU history. He’s certainly No. 1 on the list of reasons the No. 7 Spartans are unbeaten and confident they can stay that way.
“Once he gets in the zone, settles down, he can sling it,” MSU senior receiver Macgarrett Kings Jr. said after Cook threw for a career-high 398 yards and four touchdowns in the Spartans’ 52-26 win over Indiana on Saturday at Spartan Stadium. “This wasn’t the first time, probably won’t be the last time.”
No. 7 MSU-Indiana grades
But this was probably the best time, and Cook acknowledged as much after helping MSU improve to 8-0 overall and 4-0 in the Big Ten and extend its overall winning streak to 12 – the longest under Mark Dantonio and tied for third-best in school history – while improving his own record as a starter to 31-3.
He was 30-for-52 against the aggressive Hoosiers (4-4, 0-4), spreading the ball around to seven receivers. He returned from a rib shot that sidelined him for one play to make countless NFL throws, none bigger than a 10-yard touchdown strike on third-and-9 to R.J. Shelton, putting MSU up 38-26 with 4:57 left in the game.
No. 7 MSU-Indiana: How it happened, what they said
That led to a late avalanche that turned a tight game into a blowout on the scoreboard, with ensuing touchdown runs for LJ Scott and Gerald Holmes and a strong finish for a defense that was gouged early but gave up just 6 points in the second half.
But MSU was in position to win because of Cook, Aaron Burbridge (eight catches, 128 yards, touchdown), Shelton (six catches, 76 yards, two touchdowns), Kings (seven catches, 69 yards) and big plays downfield from others.
“You saw what we can do through the air,” said Cook, who joked that he was upset he came up just short of Bill Burke’s school record of 400 passing yards, set in a 1999 win over Michigan.
“He’s got that ‘X’ factor a little bit,” Dantonio said of Cook. “The biggest thing I can tell you, when there is something that goes wrong, he’s sacked or doesn’t make the throw, he’s able to bounce back and make plays, make the throws. And I think that’s a credit to him, purely to him.”
Couch: Connor Cook reaching rare level; receivers right there with him
The Spartans now have a week off and will return to action Nov. 7 at Nebraska, with confidence rising and bodies healing. For the first time as a head coach, Dantonio said he’ll have zero practices during the off week, focusing on conditioning and avoiding any further injuries.
Along with the red-hot passing attack, MSU had its best all-around special teams game against the Hoosiers, and the defense continued the progress it made in last week’s 27-23 win at Michigan. Nate Sudfeld was 23-for-37 for 308 yards and three touchdowns, but IU had just 130 of its 389 total yards after halftime.
Kings called it a “statement game.” Cook said the Spartans are “right where we need to be.”
And Dantonio, after improving to 8-1 in the game after Michigan, explained why his team remained calm, clinging to a 28-26 lead against a dangerous team in the fourth quarter.
“The bottom line is, we know how to win,” he said. “We’ve learned how to win here.”