NOAH TRISTER, AP Sports Writer
EAST LANSING, Mich. (AP) — Connor Cook has emerged from Michigan State’s quarterback competition — just in time for the Spartans’ first big test of the season.
Michigan State’s offense finally began pulling its weight Saturday, scoring seven touchdowns in a 55-17 win over Youngstown State. It’s hard to tell how much progress the Spartans made against the Penguins, who play in the Football Championship Subdivision — but next weekend will surely present a different kind of challenge when Michigan State plays at Notre Dame.
“It’s pretty exciting — it’s stuff that you dream of growing up,” Cook said. “You watched Notre Dame play and the tradition that they have. To possibly be the starter in that stadium would be a great honor.”
Cook talked to reporters immediately after throwing four touchdown passes against Youngstown State. Moments later, coach Mark Dantonio confirmed that yes, Cook would be Michigan State’s No. 1 quarterback going forward. No more competing for playing time with Andrew Maxwell and Tyler O’Connor.
Cook went 15 of 22 for 202 yards Saturday before being replaced by O’Connor early in the third quarter.
“I think you want to make decisions as soon as you can, but sometimes I don’t make that the decision, the players make that decision,” Dantonio said. “They have to play well under some pressure situations and continue to play well. When it’s close and you’re going back and forth, you sort of have to let things roll as a coach.”
Michigan State (3-0) needed one of its quarterbacks to show progress after the defense accounted for four of the team’s six touchdowns in the first two games. Cook answered the call, leading the Spartans to a 35-10 halftime lead, and they finished with 547 yards of offense.
“I thought we had a sense of urgency,” Dantonio said. “I thought we needed to play well offensively because we had not to level that I think we’re capable of.”
Before the Spartans’ first offensive possession Saturday, some fans were already chanting for freshman quarterback Damion Terry, who hasn’t played yet. Dantonio now says Terry will likely redshirt.
Cook’s first drive was a short one — the Spartans took over at the Youngstown State 24-yard line after a punt and a penalty on the Penguins. Jeremy Langford’s 3-yard touchdown run opened the scoring.
Cook added a 13-yard touchdown pass to Andre Sims, and later in the first quarter, he faked handoffs to two different teammates on one play before finding Trevon Pendleton for a 12-yard touchdown.
“I thought I did a lot better than the first two weeks,” Cook said. “It’s hard to get into a rhythm when you are using two other quarterbacks.”
This time, Cook knew coming into the game that there would be no more rotation. He was replaced in the third quarter, but by that time, the game was a rout.
Youngstown State (2-1) is one of the better teams in the FCS, and the Penguins beat Pittsburgh last season. But they were no match for the Spartans.
Shilique Calhoun, the Michigan State defensive end who already has three touchdowns this year, didn’t score any Saturday, but he did have a sack and a fumble recovery in the first half. His fumble recovery was followed by Cook’s 24-yard TD pass to Macgarrett Kings, and Cook added a 17-yard scoring pass to Bennie Fowler with 1:50 remaining in the second quarter to make it 35-10.
“The defense has been on the field so much, so they had a chance to come out and get a break,” Kings said. “We drove the ball and when the defense came back on the field they were 100 percent again. I think they were pleased with what we did today.”
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