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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.