Deeper Analysis from the MSU vs. WMU Game: The Quarterbacks

Photo courtesy of Mark Boomgaard Photo courtesy of Mark Boomgaard


Deeper Analysis from the MSU vs. WMU Game:  The Quarterback

One week before the MSU vs. WMU game, Mark Dantonio told us that he had four QBs so evenly matched that it was a “Four horse race.” On Monday before the game he issued a depth chart that said all four were in equal status.

Now I had reported the previous weekend the exact order. That Maxwell would be your starter and Cook would be your first backup, before O’Connor because he had game experience. I also stated that they wanted to redshirt Damion Terry. All of that was proven correct. So, let’s go back and assess the QB play and lack of it from Tyler O’Connor to see if we can find answers.

I don’t want to get ahead of myself, but I am baffled that we did not see Tyler O’Connor in the game. Baffled is putting it mildly. In fact, MANY inside Dantonio’s program commented how O’Connor had the best camp of all.

Dantonio avoided a split team last year (narrowly) when Max Bullough stood up at the team hotel in Minneapolis and spoke from the heart to an offense that was anemic at best and pathetic at worst. Dantonio must be careful this year as well. He had three sure NFL picks in last year’s draft that came back on his defense and a team that saw it. This can’t become an us and them situation, and there is danger of that happening if he doesn’t fix the problem swiftly.

IF, and I place emphasis on IF, all four QBs were equal, I understand the desire to redshirt Terry. I also understand that you have the nation’s best defense returning and there is far too much on the line to waste it. Make no mistake. The offense you saw executed on Friday night will struggle to make a bowl. Six or seven wins with this team is wasting a defense.

Mark Dantonio won a national title with the Buckeyes owning a defense many consider his present defense to be as good and deep as or better. He won a national title with that team; six or seven regular season wins is NOT acceptable this year. Because of previous success last year was considered the exception, two years in a row would make it a rule.

I asked Mark Dantonio after the game for his thought process in not playing O’Connor. Here is what he said, “We weren’t up that many points when we put in the guy. To rep three quarterbacks, you put them in there for a couple plays and I wanted to see what people could do. I thought we got sufficient work with our two quarterbacks and we’ll move from there.”

I personally like and respect Mark Dantonio both professionally and personally. He has no issues with tough questions. He asks them of himself and doesn’t mind others doing their job. He also isn’t disingenuous, and he doesn’t care what I think or you think. Not because he is arrogant, he is not. He is one of the kindest gentlemen I know. It is because he can’t have a ton of cooks in the kitchen.

In our society if you point out others mistakes people take it as a personal assault. What I am about to do is give you straight analysis. I have no horse in the race. I want the QB that best gives MSU the chance to win under center, or at least behind him.

When Dantonio told me he wanted to “See what people could do,” I asked myself if he had enough to make an evaluation. Let’s do that.

Andrew Maxwell

In 2010, each and every week on my TV show, my radio show, my magazine, and website I bemoaned the lack of reps for Maxwell. I took immense grief from fans who called me many names I can’t repeat. Last year I repeated those claims and even wrote in detail about it in my end of year report. On two separate occasions this summer alone Dantonio has agreed. Even saying last week, “Probably the biggest thing we did wrong in this program was maybe not getting him (Maxwell) enough reps as a sophomore before his junior year.”

Dantonio even admitted that throughout the off season, “I always felt like that Andrew was going to be our guy.”

So what is it that Dantonio wanted to see from Maxwell? He had 13 games of tape to review. His last performance prior to WMU was his biggest stage and he pulled him. So what was it he needed to see? Think about these stats. In the Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl (BWWB) Maxwell was six of fifteen with a quarterback rating (QBR) of 5.2. That was not a typo, 5.2. Against WMU he was 11 of 21 with a 25.3 QBR.

Now, before you run with that and act like I hate on Maxwell, stop for a second and finish reading. He can’t catch passes. The wide receivers will be talked about in the next article, but they are terrible. I mean pathetic. There wasn’t one WR who played (seven did) that deserved to be on scholarship. You couldn’t point to one that had a good game.

That being said, Maxwell was a victim of some terrible drops, but he still lacked any creativity other than one play that Dantonio has been craving. I like Andrew. He is a fantastic person. He WILL NOT win you games, he will manage them, and he WILL NOT COST you games.

That works with an offense that has great talent like A.J. McCarron has at Alabama, but clearly he doesn’t have that talent around him. Either that or that talent isn’t producing which is a semantics battle.

Dantonio has to get some points out of his offense, and it can’t just be wait for the D to get an INT and if they happen to not score, we can make a few yards and get a field goal or if we are lucky a TD. It can’t happen.

These are Dantonio’s words last Monday after naming Maxwell the starter and his number one guy. “I’m comfortable we have a number one quarterback. He was our number one quarterback last year. Gained some experience with that. Had some balls dropped.“

Here is also what he said about his quarterbacks. “I do think when I look at our four quarterbacks and I watch them, they possess big time ability. They’ve got great arm strength. They can make all the throws. It’s the consistency that you’re looking for and the decision making, then you have to create. Have to create with your feet; something has to happen when things break down around you.”

I saw Andrew on one play create. ONE. Let me tell you this. If he was the QB in 2011, I think that team would have been as good if not possibly even better. It had better producing players. He has not looked good in 2012 or 2013 and it isn’t an indictment on him, it is an indictment on the talent around him not fitting his style.

The present Spartans need a creator. Don’t take my word for it; the head coach has preached it since last year ended. Andrew is a great game manager that doesn’t make mistakes. I truly believe if you put him on Alabama and gave MSU all American A.J. McCarron the results would be the same for both teams. Sadly for Maxwell, his style doesn’t fit what he has around him.

I am sorry. I think he is a super young man, a great human being, and a very good QB, but not for what he has around him. I heard it said best by a college coach who didn’t have a game Friday night and was up late watching Michigan State in his hotel. “He is a great largemouth bass lure, in a lake full of trout. He doesn’t fit what Mark has around him.”

I know that Dantonio is loyal to him. I know that he and his staff hurt him. I also know that this isn’t personal. He has 104 other players he has to think about and untold millions of fans. He craves Maxwell’s ability to avoid mistakes, but he has to have creation.

WMU did what every other team does. It isn’t a secret. Load the box and dare MSU to beat them in the air. Coach Fleck said on my radio show prior to the game, “I take my defensive backs against their wide receivers all day long. I believe in them that much.” For anyone listening he didn’t hide his game plan. Stack the box, stop the run, and MSU can’t beat you creatively or in the air.

MSU OC Dave Warner said it himself. I asked about what I thought was a decent run game performance (will talk about that in my next article) even with WMU stacking the line. He said, “People have done that to us for years. We have to react to that and still be able to execute offensively whether it’s in the running game or passing game. That’s part of what we go against every week.”

MSU is what it is. Brady Hoke wanted to run a pro set offense at Michigan when he arrived. He couldn’t at first. He went with what he had and is transitioning finally to what he wants. MSU wants a balanced attack. They can’t have it with the personnel they have now. Period. They have to create and Maxwell is not a creator.

Connor Cook

Wanting to see what he has with Cook is fair. He got limited reps last year and has yet to start. That doesn’t mean you can’t evaluate him, I just don’t think you can be as sure of what you have like you can with Maxwell.

Everyone acted like he was the second coming after leading MSU to the BWWB win. He was only four of 11 for a 39.5 QBR. He was six of 15 on Friday night, was fortunate to not have a red zone turnover, and had a QBR of 40.

With Cook you certainly don’t have the accuracy of Maxwell, but you do get a better ability to run and create. Albeit he is a gunslinger. As you can see by the picture used with this article when he has no one around him he will have poor technique, throw off a back foot or no foot, and when he runs he takes unnecessary risks. He exposed his kidneys when he tried spinning in the red zone (a major no no) and struggled all summer with handling the snap.

I think the jury is still out on Cook, but with poor technique and almost too much faith in his running ability, the “Wild Wild West” attack style brings with it great risk. He will create, but he will also turnover. Would time and reps make it better? I would certainly think so. He is a talented young man, but the BCS coach I mentioned above sent me this message after he ran the MSU offense in the red zone: “He is going to get killed with his running style. He also has to be more protective of the ball in the red zone. “

Whereas Maxwell has very little risk, if any at all, Cook has big upside and major risk. It is a crap shoot.

Tyler O’Connor

I have written this before and will do so again here. Last year after MSU won the BWWB I had a member of Mark Dantonio’s staff tell me that MSU had won and the best QB had redshirted. O’Connor has been compared to Drew Stanton NO LESS than ten times by various members of the MSU football family to me.

He is a creator. He will stay in the pocket (where Cook runs almost too quickly), but won’t set up residence (like Maxwell) while locking on to a player. He is tough. All three of them are, but he has guts to stay in the pocket and run only when all options are exhausted.

O’Connor has never met a throw he doesn’t think he can make and a run he doesn’t think he can score on. He has some of the best qualities of both Maxwell and Cook. His teammates believe in him and I know for a fact there are plenty of people who are part of MSU football that want to see him get a chance.

Not a rep. Not a series. A real chance. Frankly, something Cook hasn’t got yet either. He will make mistakes, but the upside is ENORMOUS. His teammates will rally around him. That defense will fight for him.

I am not saying Cook or Maxwell isn’t liked or that their teammates won’t play for them, I am saying this team needs a spark. Something. I don’t care what year in school he is. Don’t care. Not playing him, this team struggles to get to a bowl and they have to take a chance at something special. They already know what they have.

Finally, I give you this analysis.

In the first quarter of the WMU game, the Spartans had a third and three at the WMU 48. There was 11:17 on the clock. Maxwell was in the gun with the RB immediately to his right. He had a tight end (Andrew Gleichert) on the left (boundary) and three wideouts on the right. Gleichert ran a hitch route PAST THE FIRST DOWN MARKER, the slant WR ran a peel route almost parallel to the line of scrimmage (obviously NOT PAST THE FIRST DOWN MARKER) and the Y WR also ran a hitch PAST THE FIRST DOWN MARKER. Finally, the X ran what looked like a post or a flag (we went out of the shot) but he was CLEARLY PAST THE FIRST DOWN MARKER. I am sure many of you still have the game DVRed. Don’t take my word for it. Go watch it right now and then come back.

Waiting.

Waiting.

Good. Now that you have seen it, what happened? Two of the three (couldn’t see the third) who were past the first down marker were open. Go look again.

Waiting.

Waiting.

See, I told you not to take my word, I am right. Maxwell locked on to Langford the entire way. Don’t believe me? Go look again. The moment he took the snap his eyes went to Jeremy. He never gave anyone a shot.

Waiting.

Waiting.

Did you see it? That is Andrew. He won’t look to run it. He won’t use the safe “dump” read as the last resort. That one play is his style. Let’s be safe, let’s not take a risk; a great thing on a team with more talent. A death sentence on this MSU squad.

Cook would make one look and possible throw, but then have taken off. He could have completed the pass, could have ran for the first, or been inaccurate and thrown a pick or been crushed short of the flag. We don’t know how it would turn out. He hasn’t had a fair shot.

When asked by Joe Rexrode of the Free Press last Tuesday if the QB battle had been fair he said, “I don’t know.” I feel bad for him. He is a competitor. This staff owed it to him and everyone else to be able to say, “Yes, it was and he couldn’t.”

MSU next faces USF. A team that was manhandled by a DII opponent last week. If the Spartans can’t beat them and Youngstown while giving Cook and O’Connor a look they can’t at any other time. When the Notre Dame game comes the season starts for real. If they wait, do you really start a young player in South Bend with no experience? You shouldn’t, and if they have to it is an indictment on the staff.

Now is the time. Dantonio can’t say what I am about to, but if you can’t beat the next two teams on your schedule with Cook or O’Connor or a mix of both, then you have real issues. If you don’t like what you see, you go back to Maxwell for Notre Dame. You may get to halftime of Youngstown and find that you have a QB to lead, or you at least have time to give a Terry a shot. You may decide to do that now.

I would recommend that until you know what Cook and O’Connor can truly give you, keep Terry in red. That is best for the long-term viability of the team. Either way, college football has had a lot of teams accomplish a lot with young quarterbacks.

Is it ideal? No. Is it perfect? Not a chance. Neither is wasting the nation’s best defense and another six or seven win season. Coach D isn’t afraid of risk. He has taken many of them. It’s time in the next two games to take a closer look at Cook and O’Connor and then see if a bigger risk needs to be executed.

He can always go back, if need be, to Maxwell. He can’t go back week two of the Big Ten season and get his young QB’s vital reps against USF and Youngstown.

In my next article I will look at the offense in more detail.

About Hondo S. Carpenter Sr.

View all posts by Hondo S. Carpenter Sr.
Hondo S. Carpenter, Sr. is the founder and publisher of SpartanNation.com and all of the family of services. The idea was birthed when overseas he ran into a Spartan not native to the United States who was wearing his Green and White proudly. He is dedicated to bringing you the latest and greatest information about Michigan State and Detroit Sports News every day. He resides in the Mid Michigan area. Follow Hondo on twitter here: @hondocarpenter.


20 Responses to “Deeper Analysis from the MSU vs. WMU Game: The Quarterbacks” Subscribe

  1. Faygo September 1, 2013 at 4:33 pm #

    Another great column, Hondo. Here is this old Spartan’s take: MAXWELL PLAYS SCARED. He does NOT want to take a hit, and will dink and dunk throwing for three yards on third and 7.

    Cook doesn’t have it, either. He is wildly inaccurate. It’s time for O’Connor, and if need be, burn the redshirt on Terry. This defense is world class, and Bullough and Dennard et al deserve better than this awful offense.

    Also, seat Bennie Fowler. I’ve seen enough.

  2. Doug Wegener September 1, 2013 at 4:55 pm #

    Great Article. I sat in the stands ( section 25-lower bowl )) and along w/several fans around us-we all wondered why O’Connor didn’t get to come in late, especially up 26-7 with 5 minutes to go. Inexcusable was our consensus. Dantonio ( and rest assure I love him as our coach ) makes no sense saying we weren’t up by enough points to bring in O’Connor up 19 w/ 5 minutes left. I fear O’Connor will transfer because he is not being given an opportunity and we will see him excel somewhere else. We will be left to wonder, what could have been. Many frustrated fans and already hearing some around us talking about not buying season tickets for this type of play when we can sit home and watch it on TV with the luxury of having the ability to change to another game . Looking forward to your article on the wide receivers and why we keep sending the same people out who have demonstrated they can’t get separation and can’t be count on to catch a football thrown to them. I mean, really another TD pass dropped in the end zone And Benny Fowler dropping 3 passes in this game. Why isn’t he demoted to 3rd string And more importantly why did Terrence Samuels get a hefty raise or better yet is he deserving of being a receivers coach?

    • Faygo September 1, 2013 at 5:01 pm #

      I’m with you, Doug. Now is the time for O’Connor, and I’ve seen enough of Fowler.

  3. Rick Sikorski September 1, 2013 at 5:05 pm #

    I hope Dantonio is reading this. Thanks for having the courage to post it. Stubbornness is a Dantonio weakness. (Ask Saban.) Hope he is open to the truth of what you say.

  4. Tarnue Massaquoi September 1, 2013 at 6:19 pm #

    Tyler O’Connor has better completion percentage than Maxwell and Cook.
    Tyler O’Connor has better pocket presence than Cook and Maxwell.
    Tyler O’Connor is just as athletic as Cook and has a strong arm, maybe not more than Maxwell, but strong enough.

    Why isn’t this kid seeing the field?

    MacGarrett Kings is one of my favorite receiver amongst our wrs. Why isn’t he sta rting?

    Losing Troup really sucks!

    What about Madaris?

    I love this team too much to give up but Coach Dantonio “”GET IT TOGETHER”" or else let COACH NARDUZZI TAKEOVER!

    • Boomy September 8, 2013 at 12:48 pm #

      MY SHIRT NAILS IT…EAST LANSING IS A DRINKING TOWN WITH A FOOTBALL PROBLEM. I WEAR IT EVERYWHERE AND GET ALOT OF LAUGHS BECAUSE IT’S SO TRUE

  5. keith September 1, 2013 at 6:27 pm #

    I agree with this article 100 percent I know md is loyal but with this defense u have too give o conner a shot he cant be any worse than maxwell and cook

  6. pwlew September 1, 2013 at 8:11 pm #

    thanks Hondo for telling like it is. After watching the WMU game, I am frustrated beyond words. I saw no improvement over last year or over the spring scrimmage. You will soon analyze the WRs and hopefully their coaching, if you need any ideas let me know!!.

    For now I want to quickly comment on some play calls….
    Why did we not go for it early in the game when we had the ball on WMU’s 40 on 4th down and less than a yard to go??? Since we have this outstanding defense, it seems that we should be taking some chances on offense, right?
    And why did we try running Riley wide on several plays when he is not the fast back for the wide plays?? (I have dozens more…)

    I’m bummed because I’m getting older (1964 grad) and I wanted to go to one Rose bowl and I thought this would be the year, now I’m not so sure…thanks for your thoughts, it helps me understand and eventually if the offense continues the awful play, maybe I can come to accept it, but I still have hope…

  7. stone September 1, 2013 at 9:50 pm #

    It’s time to see at least one of the other 2. Column hit it right on the head. At this point, it looks so bleak that it may not be about who is the best QB on the team, but rather who is the best FOR the team. If O’Connor can play, it’s probably Stanton Jr., if you recall his incredible rushing stats early on

  8. Brent Anderson September 2, 2013 at 7:03 am #

    I feel badly for AW. Talk about a no-win situation! But the WR play and the lack of a strong offensive line–I have to agree with this article 100 percent.

    It’s both superbly written and written from the heart. A rare combination.

  9. TNSpartan September 2, 2013 at 8:18 am #

    Hondo- Great article…put words to what I was feeling but didn’t know how to say…thanks. Here are a few comments: 1) I did go back and look at that play from 11:17 in the 1st quarter and it appears to me the real issue on the play was execution. He throws to inside making Langford spin to catch it, slowing him down, turning him toward the defender instead of the sideline. The point is still valid in that he didn’t deliver. 2) When you say a QB that can “create”….does that mean anything more than “run”? If O’Conner stays in pocket longer and delivers a pass that gets dropped, not sure how that will make a difference. Perhaps I need to wait on your analysis/recommendations on receivers. Thanks for all you do!

  10. Arnold September 2, 2013 at 12:45 pm #

    Great piece Hondo although I disagree with your comment that Coach D is a risk taker when it comes to personnel. Play calling yes, we’ve seen that, but personnel, no. Graham Couch’s column this weekend about loyalty said it all. I will be anxious to see how the next two games shake out. And one other thought. Coach has always maintained that you have to perform well in practice to play on the field. However, much like the brilliant student who can’t perform well on tests, the same is true of players who don’t do well in practice…sometimes they’re still gamers.

  11. Larry Seekman September 2, 2013 at 1:22 pm #

    Thanks for a great article! It’s obvious that you put a lot of time and thought into what you write.
    Two questions for you:
    If Terry is better than the rest and good enough for them to “burn the redshirt”, what are the chances he would have stayed around to be a fifth year senior anyway?
    Also, thinking about the scrimmage where Terry did so well, why didn’t the receivers drop Terry’s passes?

    • Ghost of Biggie September 2, 2013 at 9:01 pm #

      You might also ask why they didn’t drop them in the 2 minute drill? What is different? Attentiveness? Determination? Focus? Effort?

      • Boomy September 8, 2013 at 12:32 pm #

        They suck and that over talked about defense is not all that good when you look at who they are playing.they have the weakest schedule in the big ten.they don’t play two of the best teams and the wolverines are going to embarrass them to say the least.what a gravy season and they will still not do any better than last season.sorry but get of this defense is the greatest kick,look at who they have played,south Florida got killed by mcneese state another nobody.get back to reality,WTF

      • Boomy September 8, 2013 at 12:42 pm #

        Luck I think,

  12. old goat September 3, 2013 at 10:49 am #

    This was a very well written analysis. I have been watching MSU since the early 60′s and have never seen such poor QB play. I hope I don’t have to suffer through another version of 2012. It’s painful to watch even for us loyal fans.

    • Boomy September 8, 2013 at 12:36 pm #

      You must not of watched very close because they have not had many good ones,just look at how many went pro,what cave are you living in anyway?

  13. 5partan September 3, 2013 at 4:30 pm #

    Great article. I don’t think that it makes any sense for MD to list all four QBs as co-starters, state that they are all about equal, and then also say that one can’t be given reps until the team has a comfortable lead. They’re all equal, right?…

  14. Boomy September 8, 2013 at 12:40 pm #

    Get rid of dumbasstonio,did you see him take a timeout to help south Florida get a field goal?what an idiot.did he do that on purpose because nobody can be that stupid,or can they.