Dantonio: QB situation could be up in the air until game day
EAST LANSING, Mich. (AP) It wasn't until the start of last weekend's game that the severity of Connor Cook's injury became obvious for anyone watching.
''I would assume that things are moving forward. It's hard to assess those things until you get to game day,'' coach Mark Dantonio said. ''It hinges on very small things, I think.''
With Tyler O'Connor and Damion Terry both taking snaps, the Spartans beat Ohio State 17-14. It was one of the most remarkable victories of Dantonio's tenure, considering how valuable Cook has been this season, but as well as Michigan State rallied around its backup quarterbacks, the sixth-ranked Spartans would like their top passer to be healthy and in the lineup when they host Penn State this weekend with the division title on the line.
None of the three quarterbacks were available to reporters Tuesday, and even if they had been, it's not clear how much useful information they would have provided. In the middle of last week, Cook said his injured shoulder was fine and he was ready to face Ohio State. He ended up not playing at all.
Michigan State managed to turn that game into a tense, low-scoring affair. O'Connor completed only seven passes and Terry completed only one, but those two combined for 50 yards rushing as the Spartans hurt Ohio State a bit with some option-based runs.
Dantonio said the change in the offensive approach wasn't because of who was at quarterback. He cited the rainy weather.
''We don't create packages for guys. They're in our system. They need to grow within our system,'' Dantonio said. ''It's not like these guys only run these plays. They need to grow within our system. I think our game plan last week was a little more predicated on weather as much as anything else.''
O'Connor has only attempted 23 passes this season and Terry has thrown seven, so it's not clear how much the Spartans will be able to open up the offense this weekend even if the weather is better. Michigan State can wrap up a spot in the Big Ten championship game with a victory, but a loss would eliminate the Spartans from the conference title race.
Michigan State was No. 5 in the playoff committee's new ranking Tuesday night, so the Spartans have to feel encouraged about their chances to qualify if they win this weekend and then beat Iowa in the Big Ten championship game. They'll have a much better chance of doing that if Cook is close to full strength.
If he can't play or is limited, suddenly every game looks dicey. Offensive coordinator Dave Warner said if a player is coming back from an injury, he'd like to take that into account in play calling if at all possible.
''You want to keep your guy out of harm's way,'' Warner said. ''From a protection standpoint, you always try and stay out of third-and-longs, but when you get third-and-longs, obviously that's when people can pin their ears back a little bit.''
What made last weekend's victory so impressive was that Cook's backups had hardly played at all this season, so even if the Spartans knew all week that Cook might not be able to play, they still didn't have much time to adjust.
Warner, however, downplayed any preparation difficulty. He insists O'Connor and Terry need to be able to run the same offense Cook does.
''I don't think we change a whole lot,'' Warner said. ''We're going to run a very similar offense regardless of who's behind center. Might pick and choose a little bit in the pass game and the option game or whatever, but for the most, it's our offense and we're going to roll with it.''