Cooking Up Offense

Someone's got to throw the 3-yard out in this offense; may as well be this guy. - Mike Carter-USA TODAY Sports

MSU opted to keep true freshman QB Damion Terry on the bench and redshirted this week, with sophomore Connor Cook apparently having seized the starting QB job. That was a surprise to the fanbase, but could ultimately be the best outcome going forward.

Lost in the B1G's well-publicized faceplant against the PAC-12 and its newfangled "passing offense", and an underwhelming week in general, is the fact that MSU, after truly disheartening performances against weak opponents in the first two weeks, just may have gotten its offense on track. Albeit against another weak opponent. But still, if you watched the first two games (and all of last season), 55 points is an oasis after a long, long walk in the desert. And, like, the oasis is full of your favorite beer. Yes, I know that wouldn't help your dehydration and would actually only make it worse. Don't fight the analogy, OK?

Bottom line is, Connor Cook started Saturday's game against Youngstown State, as he was expected to. However, the offense did not continue to struggle, as perhaps it was expected to. Instead, Cook led a well-balanced attack (don't let the final run-pass split fool you, most of the 4th quarter was running to kill the clock) and capably distributed the ball to a group of receivers who, miracle of miracles, caught the catchable balls thrown their way. MSU racked up a large lead quickly, and the game was over halfway through the second quarter (as it should have been the first two weeks).

But, when Cook took a seat with the game in hand, the new man under center wasn't the nominal backup, true freshman and fan favorite Damion Terry. Instead, Tyler O'Connor took the field for mop-up duty.

The talk all week from the coaches had me convinced that they were fully prepared to give Terry his shot if it became necessary, and one way or another, playing him would have silenced the grating 'We Want Terry' chants from the students. However, in what I consider a very fortunate turn of events, Cook played well enough to let Dantonio not make that decision today.

It's probably the best thing for everyone involved if Terry doesn't have to play. Few true freshmen are ready to start at QB in Division I, and Terry becoming the starter would likely have chased out the QB options with less eligibility left than him (read: everyone except maybe Andrew Maxwell, who has no year left to sit out). There is, I suppose, an argument in the 'good riddance' vein to be made if nobody ahead of Terry could beat him, but it's a very good thing for the short- and long-term health of the program that it wasn't necessary to play the youngster.

The thing is, if Cook had repeated his performance from the first two weeks, and if O'Connor was no better, I would have been fully on board with playing Terry. I would have raged at the fact that a kid who's been on campus less than two months had somehow become our best option at the team's most important position, but if no one else could muster enough to fight off a freshman, I would have been on board for one big reason: this team has a golden chance to win big right now, and it really, really needs to be seized. This defense is too good, and this schedule too easy, to flounder to another 6- or 7-win season because of bad QB play.

Which, of course, brings us to the reality check: though they're decent for FCS, Youngstown State is still an FCS team. This kind of thing is precisely what should be expected, and there will be a small increase in opponent ability when the team heads down to South Bend next week. But even if Notre Dame curb-stomps MSU, Cook's play has put Terry firmly in the 'Break in Case of Emergency' glass box.

We will almost certainly see the offensive numbers come back to earth. But the offense probably won't descend back into the subterranean depths it had reached the first two weeks of the season. What I saw on the field yesterday gives me some hope that the offense has turned a corner. You had Macgarrett Kings Jr., Aaron Burbridge, and TE Josiah Price looking like a serviceable receiving corps. You had the trio of backs running well behind a shuffled and reshuffled offensive line. One unfortunate casualty of Saturday's action is the untimely death of the #Sadler4Heisman campaign, as the studly-in-all-senses-of-the-word punter only got to ply his wares twice. And you had Cook playing a pretty good game, with only two QB runs mixed in. Finally, with the offensive skill players settled, this should be a good week of practice without any more splitting snaps amongst competitors. I'll note that I'm still not a fan of the play design in a lot of cases; this offense continues to feature too many routes short of the sticks on passing downs, and I still don't think these receivers can be counted on to turn a 2-yard completion into a 10-yard gain against competent defensive backs, which appears to be the idea behind these routes.

This time last week, I had written off the Notre Dame game as a loss. After the way they've played the last couple of weeks, maybe I spoke too soon. My head still tells me we'll probably lose, but I'm far less certain of that than I was Saturday morning. This offense obviously isn't 55 points worth of good. But that was never the goal. All that was needed, we thought all offseason, was an average offense. Hell, a below-average offense, paired with this defense, would probably win 9 games. Even accounting for strength of opposition, this offense just might turn out to be average after all. #TeamSunshine

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