Rose Bowl shows why Cook won the QB job

On one drive in Pasadena, the sophomore showcased why he was the right man for the spot after winning the starting spot early in the season. Breaking down what that drive showed.

Sitting in the pocket on the Stanford 10-yard line, Connor Cook scanned the end zone for an open receiver.

Feeling the pressure from behind, he looked over his left shoulder quickly and sprinted to his right. A few steps later, he slung a sidearm throw to Trevon Pendleton who had found a way open in the end zone.

The 75-yard drive took just 1:39 and that was all that was necessary to showcase why Cook was the right man for the quarterback job at Michigan State.

It was in the breakdowns, mistakes and improvisation – creating and extending plays as was preached in the quarterback room through fall camp.

Starting the drive on MSU's 25-yard line with 2:07 before halftime, Cook was right back on the field after throwing a pick-6 to Stanford's Kevin Anderson on the last play. Showing full faith in his "resilient" quarterback, Dave Warner went right back to him.

Cook took the first snap and dropped back looking at his primary target MacGarrett Kings for a quick hit. Finding nothing, he extended the play and threw to Jeremy Langford up the sideline, who dropped it.

Fear not, he brushed it off and delivered a strike to Tony Lippett in a soft spot in the Stanford defense to put MSU at midfield.

After an incompletion thrown to Lippett, the sophomore hit Langford in stride out of the backfield and he scampered up the sideline for 11 yards and another first down.

With 1:40 and a pair of time outs, Cook sat in the pocket and took a downfield shot to Bennie Fowler – a great play call with low-risk and high-reward. Putting the ball in a spot where only Fowler had a good shot to make a play on the ball, Cook was rewarded as Fowler reached back and extended to make the tough catch at the Stanford 3-yard line.

He took a delay of game penalty to move it back to the MSU 8-yard line. A quick hit to Lippett moved it back to the Stanford 3 and MSU took a timeout.

Out of the timeout, MSU looked to get Andrew Gleichert in the end zone on play action, but he was held by Stanford's Trent Murphy. With no option as he tried to extend the play, Cook attempted to get rid of the ball and was called for grounding – a loophole in the rule, it seems, as the target is taken out of the play.

Coming right back to play action out of a goal line formation, the Spartans again showed faith in Cook giving him the ball. They were rewarded when he found Pendleton for the touchdown to pull MSU within 17-14 going into halftime.

It was far from perfect, but that's exactly why Cook won the starting job. Playing quarterback is about what happens when things don't go as they are supposed to.

"That's what you have to do as a quarterback, you have to manage the situation and then you have to overcome adversity and you have to make plays down the field," coach Mark Dantonio said. "He was able to do that."

Of nine plays on the drive, four went as they were planned. Three times, Cook extended plays. On the final play, he extended it just enough to regain some momentum lost on the pick-6.

"Anytime you can end the half with a touchdown coming from the stupid decision that I made, but any time you can end the half on a touchdown that gives you so much momentum," Cook said. "I think that was kind of the turning point for the game."

The turning point for the season, though, came when Cook was named the starter. From then on, Michigan State was a different team. He showed that in less than two minutes of game time in the Rose Bowl.

With confidence, resiliency, a short memory, the ability to extend plays and makes good things happen when plays break down, Cook led the Spartans to an undefeated conference season and a 12-1 record as a starter.

And on Wednesday in Pasadena, he showcased why on a national stage.

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