Cook Returns and MSU Seals the Big Ten East

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Two weeks ago, one would have thought Michigan State University’s chances of making the College Football Playoffs had disappeared.

The heartbreaking loss to the Nebraska Cornhuskers in Lincoln 39-38 left the Spartans hungry for revenge.

“When you have something taken away from you, you sit back and kind of reevaluate yourself, check yourself, and we did that,” said senior starting quarterback Connor Cook. “We know what it feels like to lose, and it’s the worst feeling in the entire world, so we never want to feel like that ever again. I think there was some extra motivation for us to come out there today and play because that feeling when you lose is kind of indescribable.”

MSU’s win over the Penn State Nittany Lions 55-16 on Saturday sealed the envelope to send the Spartans to the Big Ten Championship for the third time in five years.

“This is what we’ve shot for, win the East,” said MSU head coach Mark Dantonio. “That was our first goal that we had to accomplish before we could go onto anything else but I am so so proud of our football team, so happy for them and what they’ve accomplished.”

When starting quarterback Connor Cook went down with a shoulder injury against Maryland, the following game against the Ohio State Buckeyes loomed.

Dantonio decided against playing Cook in arguably the biggest marquee game of the season.

Backup quarterbacks Tyler O’Connor and Damion Terry split time to fill the void against the former College Football Champions, leading the team to victory and therefore keeping MSU’s playoff dreams alive.

Cook was still left questionable whether he would start his final game at Spartan Stadium this Saturday. But Cook returned, stronger than ever. Cook threw 19-for-26 for 248 yards and three touchdowns. He also became MSU’s all-time leader in total offense, passing Kirk Cousins.

“Obviously sitting out stunk,” said Cook. “I have been very fortunate to play a lot of games and not have to sit out. That was a reality check and it just made me appreciate it that much more and then to win the way we did.”

Right out of the gate, the Spartans were aggressive.

On PSU’s first offensive series, MSU senior Arjen Colquhoun intercepted Christian Hackenberg’s second throw of the game in the end zone for a touchback.

PSU’s quarterback Christian Hackenberg felt the pressure from the Spartan’s defense that started up late.

“When you put us in a situation, where we are one win away going to Indy, there is no question we are going to give it everything we got,” said Cook. “When we are one win away, when we’re in a situation like this where it is win or go home, we’re going to come out and we are going to play and we’re going to play fast. We’re not going to be denied and we’re not going to let someone come in here and take away what we want.”  

The Spartans outgained the Nittany Lions 436-418 while sacking Hackenberg twice, tallying two interceptions, forcing two fumbles and scoring two defensive touchdowns.

One of those being a muffed PSU fourth quarter kickoff. Jermaine Edmondson recovered the fumbled kickoff at PSU’s 9-yard-line.

The overwhelming win was topped off with a rushing play by an unconventional player.

Fifth-year senior center Jack Allen got the handoff from Cook and ran it into the endzone to cap off his last game at Spartan Stadium.

“We’re peaking at the right time,” Allen said. “We’ve had guys go down and people have to play different positions. I think everyone stepped up on the offensive line and on the offense to help balance things out.”

Cook also recognized the offensive line. Leading the nation with 44 sacks, PSU’s defense did not touch Cook once.

“Credit to offensive line,” Cook said. “They played their best game today and kept me very well protected and blocked very well for the run game as well. When I could stand back there with time and feel safe, it is a pretty good situation.”

While the team celebrates now, tomorrow they are focused on their next opponent the undefeated University of Iowa Hawkeyes (12-0, 8-0 Big Ten.)

“These seniors have experienced it all,” Dantonio said. “They’ve been to a Rose Bowl, they’ve been to a Cotton Bowl, they’ve been to one Big Ten Championship and now have the opportunity to go to another Big Ten Championship game. Just credit to their chemistry and leadership again, and they’re play-making ability.”

The Spartans (11-1, 7-1 Big Ten) are now headed to Indianapolis and Lucas Oil Stadium to face off against the Big Ten West contender for a spot in the College Football Playoff New Year’s Six bowls.

A LOOK AHEAD:

Iowa’s last regular season game against Nebraska ended in a 28-20 win for the No. 4 Hawkeyes. Nebraska outgained the Hawkeyes 433-250 and could not convert on third-downs, going 0-9. Iowa converted Tommy Armstrong Jr.’s four interceptions into points.