Recap: Stepping forward

Help us, Connor Cook. You're our only hope. - Mike Carter-USA TODAY Sports

So, where'd that come from?

MSU had gone nine straight games scoring 26 points or fewer, and they end up tying the record in the Dantonio era with a 55-17 win against Youngstown State. Connor Cook got the start and the backing of the coaches, and he took that and ran with it (but mostly passed).

Everything went right. The blocking was there, the running game was there, the receivers were running great routes, getting open and holding onto the ball, Cook was (mostly) making good throws and the play-calling was great.

Yes, it was against an FCS opponent. But MSU couldn't move the ball against teams that lost to FCS opponents. Cook isn't suddenly the answer and MSU won't average 35 points from here on out, but it was a step forward and a confidence-builder, something MSU hasn't has in almost a calendar year.

Looking back at my keys to the game:

For MSU

Big plays on offense - Very much so. Thirteen players had a play of at least 12 yards, including eight in the passing game. Nick Hill had a 35-yard touchdown run, while Aaron Burbridge had a 26-yard catch and Macgarrett Kings had a 24-yard catch.

Fast start - From the preview:

The best way to ease the tension in Spartan Stadium would be to take the first offensive series to the end zone.

It was only a 24-yard drive, but MSU did indeed take the first drive to the end zone in five plays. It stopped the stupid "We Want Terry" chants from the student section before the offense took the field. From that point on, MSU's offense had confidence and didn't let up.

Don't allow points on defense - They did, though one touchdown started in MSU territory and the other was when the game was out of hand. YSU had a fifth-year senior quarterback who had played in Spartan Stadium before.

For YSU:

Use MSU's aggressive D against itself - Tried some stuff to the outside, but there was nothing there all day. Got some big plays in the passing game, but that was it.

Turnovers - YSU turned the one MSU turnover into a touchdown, but a lazy fumble on a pitch was recovered by Shilique Calhoun and turned into a touchdown by the MSU offense. Ezra Robinson also had a fumble recovery in the fourth quarter on a kickoff.

Load the box - MSU made the passes it hadn't previously this season.

Looking at MSU's three sides of the ball.

Offense

MSU has a QB, for now. I had called for Andrew Maxwell and a hurried-up offense. Heck had called for a run-heavy offense. What did we have Saturday? 32 passes to 49 runs, though it was probably more 50-50 before MSU started running the clock out. Simply put, MSU executed its offense better.

Cook had plenty of time in the backfield. Fou Fonoti played some, and it's very obvious when he's in a RT and Jack Conklin is at LT. Center Travis Jackson was out with an undisclosed injury, but MSU says he should be back next week.

At receiver, Macgarrett Kings has quickly established himself as MSU's top receiver. He had four catches for 61 yards and proved to be a downfield threat MSU needed. Aaron Burbridge (3, 44) and Bennie Fowler (2, 39) may be the next two in line. Tony Lippett had four catches in the second half, his first noticeable appearance of the season. Perhaps just as important was seeing tight end Josiah Price with three catches for 28 yards. Tight end has done nothing in the passing game since the spring, but seeing Price and Jamal Lyles (2, 19) involved is big moving forward. I don't recall any drops in the passing game.

On the ground, MSU again had a solid day. Hill had 83 yards on nine carries, Jeremy Langford had 69 yards on 15 carries and Riley Bullough had 36 on 10 carries for a RB average of 5.5 yards per carry. There were also WR runs by R.J. Shelton (18 yards) and Bennie Fowler (17 yards).

As for Cook, he miss a few easy passes, but he also had some really good ones. He finished 15-for-22 for 202 yards (9.1 YPA), 4 TDs and no INTs. It was the first 4-TD performance by MSU since Brian Hoyer in 2007 and first without an interception since Drew Stanton in 2005. He only had two runs for 25 yards. With time in the pocket, it finally allowed an MSU quarterback to operate. He didn't light the world on fire, but he made the throws that needed to be made. In backup duty, Tyler O'Connor went 7-for-10 for 68 yards. I was a little surprised they went with him, because if Cook gets hurt at Notre Dame, would O'Connor come in ahead of Maxwell? Also noteworthy: MSU hasn't thrown an interception this season.

How much of the success was more executing than play-calling? I don't know. But it did feel like it was a really well-called game. I still don't like a shallow crosses on 3rd-and-medium/short that are short of the sticks, but they got away with it this time.

Defense

Another day, another overwhelmed opponent. Just one sack (Calhoun) and three TFLs, but there were eight QB hurries and four pass break-ups. They didn't score two touchdowns, so it was a clear step back.

Isaiah Lewis was out with an apparent knee injury, but MSU expects him back last week. RJ Williamson was great in Lewis' place. Taiwan Jones also missed most of the game after an early injury, but Pat Narduzzi said he'll be back, too.

Total numbers for YSU include 4.5 YPA, 2.5 YPC and 3.7 yards per play. We know this is a really good defense. They'll finally be tested next week, though.

Special teams

Only two punts for sexy punter Mike Sadler, one that landed at the 2-yard line. Kevin Muma made two chip-shot field goals, so his real effectiveness is still questionable. Had MSU gotten into the end zone on those plays, they would have had the third-highest scoring output in school history.

On returns, Andre Sims Jr. again had some decent returns, but a fumble in the second straight game ended that. Hill took over punt return and had an 18-yard return, while Kings had a 15-yard return. Is it Sims moving forward? Hard to see that, right now.

Conclusion

Is the offense fixed? No. Is MSU on its way to 10 wins? No. Again, it was an FCS opponent. But it's OK to feel good about a step forward being taken on offense. It's been a year since we could say that. MSU did what it was supposed to do, and watching a game didn't feel like getting teeth pulled.

MSU has a true No. 1 quarterback going through the week of practice. Does that mean it's Cook or die? No. But by the competition being over, Mark Dantonio means that Cook is No. 1 throughout practice. The running game has been solid, while the receiving and passing moved forward. MSU's offense only needs to be below-average to average for this team to go far. It's a bit closer to that after Saturday. Even getting to last year's level is an improvement from the first two weeks of this season.

Next up is a Notre Dame team that terrorized MSU's offensive line en route to a 20-3 win in Spartan Stadium a year ago. MSU should have a full offensive line, though it might not be 100 percent.

Even after MSU's win, I didn't give them a chance in South Bend. But after seeing the Irish squeak out a win at Purdue, I do give them a chance, albeit a small one. In the end, MSU will need to win at the line, something they couldn't do a year ago.

For now, enjoy the offense finally putting everything together, even if it was one game.

But now it's Notre Dame week. The real season starts now.

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