There might be no more talked-about shoulder in America this week than the one belonging to Connor Cook.
The Spartans’ quarterback — probably the best quarterback in the Big Ten this season — had himself a weird game last weekend in Michigan State’s win over Maryland. After playing the first series, he then came out for backup Tyler O’Connor. Then Cook went back in and was hit in the shoulder, injured to an extent that he was seen screaming in pain on the sideline. He came back in the game and played poorly for the remainder of the first half, apparently affected by that shoulder injury. Then he sat out the entire second half.
All this with Michigan State’s biggest game of the season looming this weekend against Ohio State.
But after the win over the Terps, head coach Mark Dantonio said he was confident Cook would play and play well against the Buckeyes. Cook said he wasn’t affected by the shoulder injury at all and that it was precautionary.
Well, Dantonio and Cook faced more questions about the quarterback’s health on Tuesday, and their stances didn’t change.
Dantonio stuck with his postgame assessment, saying he had a 9.5 out of 10 confidence that Cook would play, while also doing his usual “we don’t talk about injuries” thing.
Mark Dantonio says "we don't talk about injuries" when asked about Connor Cook. Says he's still a 9.5 out of 10 that Cook will play.
— Dan Murphy (@DanMurphyESPN) November 17, 2015
Cook remained adamant that he would play.
“My shoulder is good,” Cook said, “I'm going to be ready to go so there is no issue with that.”
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Cook’s status is of obvious concern given how effective he’s been this season. In the four games prior to the Maryland game, Cook threw for a combined 1,428 yards and 11 touchdowns. Last weekend, in limited in action, he completed six of his 20 passing attempts for 77 yards and no touchdowns, also throwing an interception.
The stakes are incredibly high Saturday. If Michigan State wins, a win in the regular-season finale against Penn State would give the Spartans an East Division championship and a trip to the Big Ten title game, where a win could send them to the College Football Playoff. If Michigan State loses, it will be eliminated from the Big Ten East and Big Ten championship races.
So, with all that on the line, plus the already tremendous task of going up an Ohio State defense that ranks among the nation’s best, it’s obviously a huge game.
And one Dantonio thinks Cook will play well in.
“I don't think there is that kind of pressure that needs to be put on Connor Cook,” Dantonio said. “I think he's established himself here as one of the greatest quarterbacks, if not maybe the greatest quarterback, certainly one of them, in the history here He's won more games than any other quarterback. He's played on a big stage. He's won a Rose Bowl and been the MVP. He's won a Big Ten Championship Game and been the MVP. He's played extremely well across the board throughout his career here, so I don't think it's fair to say this one game will define him.
“I think this is another opportunity to establish his legacy. I think he will play well. He's always played well on a big stage, and I think he will have confidence to play well.”