I don’t know what happened. I can’t pinpoint the moment when it happened. But at some point it happened. Connor Cook became a god to anybody wearing green and white.
For his whole career I saw Cook as somewhat of a Kirk Cousins who didn’t like football as much. He never seemed like a student to me. If things went wrong, I didn’t imagine Cook thinking about the tape he watched the week before. I imagined him pulling an unsuccessful Brett Favre (heave and pray).
All the excuses were made for him early on. “He’s young” “He’s learning” “He’ll get there.” All the excuses were okay because the team kept winning. Cook would throw the occasional mind-numbing pick but it was okay because MSU’s defense would almost certainly bail him out. After the Rose Bowl his sophomore year, probably his best “high pressure” game statistically, Cook looked to be headed for greatness.
Then he was okay. Not bad, just okay. Cook posted fewer than 3,000 yards passing in the regular season but just over a 3:1 touchdown to turnover ratio. Then he “led” the Spartans to an improbable comeback against powerhouse Baylor in the Cotton Bowl.
Wait. Cook was the reason for the comeback? Or did the defense, led by another outstanding junior at the time in Shilique Calhoun, lock down a Baylor offense that was unstoppable in the first half as well as most of the season? Cook certainly made throws to win the game. But his stat line overall was bad. Not bad. Average. Two TD’s, two picks, 24/42 passing for 314 yards passing. He made big plays down the stretch but the feeling of “well you’d better do that after what you did earlier” was unrelenting. It made sense that the defense couldn’t stop Baylor, Cook’s first two picks did not. While Cook was figuring it out in the first half, Jeremy Langford carried the weight.
Anyway, the hype machine went into full swing as Cook became both the winningest quarterback in MSU history and MSU’s all time offensive leader his senior season. Despite playing average throughout much of the season, he benefitted from being the only consistent face on the offensive side as Dantonio refused to name a starting running back. Troubles in the secondary made Cook look even more like an innocent bystander in all of MSU’s struggles.
Fortunately, despite a depleted offensive line, Cook continued to make plays. As did his receivers. Cook possesses an outstanding ability to throw the ball where only his guy can catch it. I’ll give it to him on this point. The guy lets his guys make plays and his connection with Aaron Burbridge is outstanding. But I rarely hear Burbridge’s name spoken with the same awe-struck tone Cook’s receives.
Just when everything looked ready for Cook to storm into Ohio State and claim the signature win his resumé so desperately needed, he got injured. I’m legitimately upset that this happened because it was an opportunity for me to be proven wrong in a happy. But he didn’t play. And if MSU had lost that game I could have let it go. I could admit how vital he is to the team. But they didn’t. Maybe because of rain, maybe because of poor play calling, maybe because MSU came to play and OSU didn’t. Whatever the reason may be, the Spartans found a way.
Yet the praise kept coming. Fans hoped and prayed that he would be healthy in time for a HOME game against a decent Penn State team. Despite the fact that the two backups beat the #2 team in the nation at home, people found that necessary. Cook played again in the B1G Championship game, looking not himself but making a huge throw to Burbridge in the final minuted to make people think he was the reason. He snatched the MVP even though anybody who watched the game knew that either L.J. Scott or Calhoun deserved it.
And now here we are. Connor Cook is a fortunate legend. He’s fortunate that football focuses on quarterbacks. He’s fortunate that the list of NFL caliber quarterbacks is neither long nor impressive. He’s fortunate that he’s had a truly unbelievable talent on the defensive side of the ball in Calhoun. He’s fortunate that he has one more shot to truly silence the doubters.
I feel somewhat bad because I don’t blame Cook for any of this. He’s just doing his best. I blame the fans.
While it might seem silly to complain about anything other than wins, MSU has to look at all aspects of it’s team and what parts contribute the most if it wants to continue to grow. Cook is a good quarterback with an outstanding arm, questionable decision-making skills and questions about his leadership.
So I hope Cook proves me wrong. I hope he shows that this team needs him. But let’s hold on before we find a spot for the Connor Cook statue on campus. That can wait until exactly 30 seconds after he beats Alabama.