Michigan State's Connor Cook another tough task for Maryland

Through the first three-quarters of its schedule, Maryland has faced its share of dynamic aerial attacks. Bowling Green quarterback Matt Johnson threw for 491 yards in September. Penn State's Christian Hackenberg, a likely top pick in April's NFL draft, racked up 315 yards a few weeks ago. In mid-October, the Terps had to contend with Ohio State's two-pronged attack of J.T. Barrett and Cardale Jones.

But perhaps their toughest task is awaiting them this weekend at Spartan Stadium. There, the Terps will have to tackle No. 13 Michigan State and quarterback Connor Cook, one of the nation's top signal callers.


"Obviously, Connor Cook is probably the best of them all," middle linebacker Jermaine Carter Jr. said Wednesday. "He's going to be a first-round draft pick probably coming up this season, and it definitely shows on film. He doesn't make many mistakes. He only has three interceptions on the season, and he puts the ball where it needs to be placed at the right time."

This season, Cook leads the Big Ten Conference with 21 touchdowns and a 149.3 mark in passing efficiency. He's completed 58.1 percent of his passes for 2,405 yards and has thrown only three interceptions this season. He's been efficient, and he hasn't made many mistakes.

"Connor Cook, he's definitely an NFL quarterback," cornerback Will Likely said. "He's very composed in the pocket. Doesn't let too much rattle him. He does a good job of not turning the ball over."

Cook is seen by some pundits as a Heisman candidate, thanks to his smooth play in the backfield. But he's also got one of the Big Ten's best wide receivers at his disposal in Aaron Burbridge. The 6-foot-1, 208-pound Burbridge leads the Big Ten with 6.9 catches per game and 110.4 yards per game. On the season, he has 62 catches for 994 yards and 16 touchdowns, all while averaging 16 yards per catch.

Across from Burbridge, wide receiver Macgarrett Kings has caught 28 passes for 402 yards and four touchdowns, while R.J. Shelton has 31 cathces for 341 yards and three touchdowns.

Likely will probably be matched up against Burbridge, and he understands the difficulty of his matchup. He hasn't shied away from any challenge during his Maryland career, but he also knows that Michigan State probably won't make any mistakes. So if Cook and the Spartans do slip up, he'll have to be there.

"They got a good execution," Likely said. "They're all on the same page. You got one of the quarterbacks in the conference, and you got some great receivers that he can get the ball to. They work very well together. They execute very good."

After Maryland's 31-30 loss to Penn State on Oct. 24, interim coach Mike Locksley talked about the Terps' lack of success on 50-50 balls. There were 11 times in that game that Hackenberg threw a ball that a Maryland defender or a Penn State receiver had an equal chance of getting, Locksley said, and 10 times the Nittany Lions converted those passes.

It's been a renewed point of emphasis for the secondary, which has allowed at least 297 yards passing four times this season. Carter said the defensive backs have been working on jump balls and 50-50 balls more in practice in hope of seeing more success in stopping air attacks Saturday.

Plus, the Terps are coming off a tough pass defense performance against Wisconsin, when Badgers quarterback Joel Stave completed 12 of 16 passes for 168 yards and a touchdown in the second half.

"He does things so effortlessly," defensive coordinator Keith Dudzinski said. "It doesn't even look like he's throwing the ball that hard and then it comes firing out of there. I think he's an outstanding quarterback. He has surprising mobility, a big guy like that you don't think he can run around but he gets out of a lot of trouble. He's tough to get down and he's able to make a lot of plays with his arm."

Cook is just the latest aerial challenge for the Terps defense. And though they know there won't be many mistakes, Likely hopes the Terps will be ready when they have the chance.

"Just the focus point," Likely said. "It's not so much it's physical-wise. It's just little keys to detail. You got to pay attention when you go against a team like that. You have to use your technique. It's not really the physical part because everybody has it. It's just locking in on the small things and we're just going to create big things."