EAST LANSING, Mich. -- It’s not very often that Michigan State needs to rely on anything other than its defense to set the tone for a game.
But after the Spartan defense opened up Saturday’s matchup by allowing a 64-yard touchdown run to Indiana on its first drive, Michigan State needed to rely on its offense to step up and give the Spartans somewhere to stand.
And did they ever.
In a 42-28 win, the Michigan State offense cruised for 473 yards of total offense -- 238 yards and four touchdowns on the ground and 235 yards and two touchdowns in the air from quarterback Connor Cook.
Cook finished the day 22-of-31, his most efficient game of the season to date. Cook averaged 10.7 yards per completion and converted 10-of-14 third-down opportunities, while keeping the Spartans perfect in the red zone (3-of-3).
“Heading in to Iowa, we were gelling a lot better in practice,” Cook said. “And then I think you did see an improvement this week in practice, just the whole confidence level -- guys having fun out there, not stressing out about anything, focusing on the play calls while having fun in practice.”
But it wasn’t too long ago that this offense wasn’t having too much fun in practice. With Cook in the middle of a quarterback controversy in East Lansing, and an offense that seemed like it wouldn’t be able to keep its defense off the field long enough to do anything, many wondered if the Spartans would be able to put together enough of a complete package to really compete for a Big Ten title.
But since then Cook has stepped up, playmakers have also emerged for the Spartans, and Michigan State has taken major steps forward.
“You just keep trying to push through and we’ve tried to stay positive with our guys and we kept saying, ‘When it does turn, it’s going to turn in a big way,’ ” Dantonio said. “And I think today was an indication of that. Are we a finished product? I don’t think we’re a finished product yet.”
But the Spartans seem to have the elements to create a product that could be quite effective.
Nine different players caught passes against the Hoosiers, led by Tony Lippett and Macgarrett Kings Jr., while three different running backs got involved in the run game. Junior Jeremy Langford took the brunt of the carries, scoring three rushing touchdowns (also, scoring one passing TD) and 109 yards on 23 carries. True freshmen Delton Williams toted the ball 12 times for 92 yards, while R.J. Shelton picked up two carries, including one 34-yard touchdown run.
Last week Kings Jr. told ESPN.com that he thought of Langford, Williams and Shelton as a “three-headed monster” that would be able to attack defenses.
“We’ve got different guys making different plays -- that’s what’s so exciting to me,” Dantonio said of the offense. “Different guys, young players sort of transitioning into playmakers for us. And that’s the thing I felt like would happen.”
The 42 points are the most the Spartans have posted this season. But in Big Ten play, they’ve averaged 443 yards per game and held the ball for at least 37 minutes against Iowa and Indiana.
Purdue and Illinois will be the next two defenses to face this growing offense, but it’s not just conference opponents that have realized how much this Spartan attack has matured.
Senior linebacker Max Bullough, whose defense has been able to rest on the sidelines much more because of their offense, said he’s definitely seen the progress.
“They’ve grown up so much,” Bullough said. “They’ve done so well and accepted the coaching and taken the abuse from early on in the year. They really took hold of it and took ownership of that offense.
“No ones talking bad about the Michigan State scoring offense anymore.”