CHAMPAIGN, Ill. (AP) — Connor Cook struggled so badly against Purdue last week that Michigan State coach Mark Dantonio admitted he thought about benching the sophomore quarterback.
Saturday at Illinois, Cook found his way to the bench early in the fourth quarter.
This time, though, he was trading backslaps and smiles with teammates, the spoils of a 42-3 blowout win.
Cook set a school record for quarterbacking efficiency with 208 yards and three touchdowns on 15-of-16 passing. He overcame a first-half fumble into the Illinois end zone that might have shaken most quarterbacks.
"He's a competitor and as he reassures me, 'Don't worry, I'll be fine.'" Dantonio said. "It was just that. I've seen him respond like that. He's growing as a young player."
Cook said he was bothered that he barely threw for 100 yards against one-win Purdue, but never doubted himself.
"Coming off a performance I had last week, obviously, I was upset and really focused on things," he said.
The Spartans defense played big, too, shutting down Illinois after an early field goal. Michigan State came into the game ranked first in the country in total defense at 228 yards a game. Illinois managed just 128. At halftime the Illini had a single rushing yard.
Tailback Jeremy Langford added 104 yards on 22 carries and two touchdowns for the Spartans (7-1, 4-0 Big Ten). It was his third straight 100-yard game.
The Illini (3-4, 0-3), after leading 3-0 early, now have a 17-game Big Ten losing streak that stretches back more than two years.
"I think we started out fast but we, again, didn't capitalize on some things that we needed to," Illinois coach Tim Beckman said.
Almost half of Illinois' offense came on the game's opening drive, a 12-play, 53-yarder that ended with a field goal and a 3-0 lead that pumped a little optimism into a homecoming day crowd.
If all you saw was the final score, you might not believe Michigan State didn't take over at that moment. But the Spartans let Illinois hang around.
The backbreaker came slowly, agonizingly, over a little under nine minutes of the second quarter.
What looked like it was about to be an Illinois lead turned into a big 11-point edge for the Spartans. And, no surprise, their defense triggered it.
Michigan State stopped the Illini twice from its own 1-yard line midway through the quarter, stuffing running back Josh Ferguson and then, on fourth down with the homecoming crowd at its loudest, tight end Jon Davis just short of the goal line.
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