When Michigan State took the field against TCU on Saturday night everyone was prepared for a low scoring affair dominated by two of the nation’s best defenses. Michigan State’s defense can be credited with making TCU one-dimensional and the same can be said about TCU’s defensive effort.
MSU found success with its star tailback Le’Veon Bell (145 yards rushing) late in the game while TCU was hard pressed to gain anything on the ground against MSU’s front seven. MSU’s game plan was simple, run the football on offense and stop the run on defense.
TCU’s redshirt freshman QB Trevone Boykin had shown himself to be mistake prone and MSU’s passing attack with first year starter Andrew Maxwell proved to be less than adequate throughout the 2012 season. The winning team was destined to be the team that made the fewest mistakes. MSU was the improbable winner down 13-0 at halftime only to emerge the winner 17-16.
On the third series of the first half, MSU brought in its own redshirt freshman QB and the “controversy” ensued thereafter. Connor Cook, who had no more than a handful of snaps throughout the season, got his opportunity and found a way to lead MSU down the field on two key scoring drives that put the Spartan Nation on notice. The first drive was a 90 yarder (longest of the season) and the second was responsible for Conroy’s game winning field goal. The message delivered on Saturday night was simple; MSU’s starting QB position is wide open heading into spring football.
Cook’s stats won’t blow anyone away. Doning Peyton Manning’s #18, Cook looked the part in the huddle, but statistically he was less than “Peyton-like” finishing 4 of 11 for 47 yards with a crucial TD pass to fellow freshman Aaron Burbridge. When the game was on the line in quarter #4, Dantonio gave Connor Cook the nod to win it or lose it. The message was sent and received with a resounding applause around the Spartan Nation and what do ya know, Cook delivered.
The coaches did everything in their power after the game to make it sound as though there is no QB controversy brewing, but anyone with any knowledge of the game could see that Cook is talented and will have to get serious look this spring. This is the product of building a program. This is the product of strong recruiting and the need for competition at every position on the field including the most critical.
I am not going to go out and automatically anoint Connor Cook MSU’s starting QB at this point. However, the coaching staff knows that 2013 is a table set for success with a talented junior class ready to be seniors, an offensive line group with of ton of reps, a defense that largely returns intact and a schedule that is the most favorable schedule they’ve had since they arrived.
Anything short of an appearance in the B1G Championship game next fall would be considered a disappointment. The Spartan fan base is restless after a disappointing 2012 campaign that finished with a victory in a bowl game that largely couldn’t give tickets away to anyone wearing green attire.
Looking at the quarterback situation logically here are my takeaways.
- Andrew Maxwell had more than his opportunity to take command of the MSU team. He is a 6-6 QB with limited athletic ability and really only has one game that he was responsible for winning. That game was Wisconsin. In fairness to Maxwell he showed athletic ability in high school. We know that he has the talent to do that. It is the opinion of Spartan Nation that poor coaching hurt him and Hondo will address that in great detail later this off season. We also strongly believe competition, something he didn’t face, will help him in 2013. He has had four years in the MSU system to perfect his craft.
- Connor Cook is a good athlete. He has a quick release. He is decisive with the ball. He displays good footwork and has the ability to scramble turning a bad play into positive yardage. When the game was on the line Connor stepped in and found a way to get it done. He showed some moxie and swagger on the field. Cook has all the tools to be a three-year Big Ten starter, IF he can win the job.
- Don’t sleep on the ‘other’ Connor… O’Connor that is. Tyler O’Connor will be a redshirt freshman heading into spring ball. He has all the God given ability needed to step in and start for four years at MSU. Reputable college coaches called O’Connor one of the best high school quarterbacks they’d ever seen. Like Cook, O’Connor has a big body, quick feet and apparently throws the long ball with extraordinary accuracy. Early Sunday morning one member of the MSU football staff when discussing 2013 with Hondo and the coming QB battle. He said of O’Connor, “And he’s the best of the bunch.”
- Damion Terry could become a factor in the QB race if he enrolls early. Most everyone expects Terry to redshirt upon arriving in East Lansing, but Terry’s knack for winning will get him a look. Terry lead his Erie Cathedral Prep team to a PA state championship. His mobility is a huge asset bringing Bobby McAllister athleticism and escapeablity to the position and he is a gifted passer as well.
If all things are equal this spring, I believe that Michigan State will have another QB under center next fall when the season kicks off. Hondo disagrees. He believe that the job is Maxwell’s unless someone beats him out.
I am in no way saying that Maxwell can’t and won’t get it done. However, the competition is steep at the QB position. This staff has three Spartan QB’s playing in the NFL right now and they are in on a number of high profile QB’s in the next two recruiting classes.
MSU will put another QB in the League, I don’t think the next one destined for the NFL draft is Andrew Maxwell. If given a fair shake, one of the three guys stacked behind him should come out this spring and win the job. Mark it down, this will be the most important off season in the Mark Dantonio era.