As the MSU Football team is in an offensive crisis and there is plenty of blame to go around. You can point fingers at the offensive staff, you can single out players and of course the man ultimately responsible is head coach Mark Dantonio. With that being said, you can never accuse Dantonio of not being a fair and honorable man.
That is why redshirt freshman Tyler O’Connor getting pulled after only two series made no sense against USF. He had taken the primary reps with the second team all week in practice, some with the first team and it was his first and ONLY collegiate game action.
Considering that it was his first game, I thought he played well. Considering how Andrew Maxwell had been playing (game 1 and later in the USF game) and Connor Cook, it made no sense to this reporter that he was pulled. More importantly in looking for a gunslinger to emerge, it was not like Dantonio in that it wasn’t fair.
After the game OC Dave Warner said of O’Connor’s play (or lack thereof) “He did move the ball a little bit. We made the decision at halftime that we wanted to put Andrew (Maxwell) back in there. It felt like our running game was working well without a quarterback run attack. Our passing game was not working well, so we wanted to go with the best passer.
Warner went on to address if the QBs are, “auditioning” for the job and he added, “That’s one way to look at it, absolutely. Guys are getting opportunities. No two ways about it, but the bottom line with those guys is like I think I said last week, who puts us in the end zone? We had a field goal opportunity that was missed. We can’t settle for field goals when we’re first-and-goal. We went through that last year. Again, emphasis was made throughout the last seven months and we didn’t get it done today as far as scoring in the red zone in that situation.”
It was amazing to me that he mentioned the missed field goal because that was the work of O’Connor leading the team on their only drive up to that point in the game. Up until that point he was the ONLY QB to move the team.
O’Connor handled the burgeoning QB crisis like an old pro deflecting what could get ugly by saying, “For the most part, we moved the ball and everything, but in the red zone, that’s where quarterbacks are judged on how many points they put on the scoreboard. In the end, I didn’t do my job. I forced that ball at the end, made a poor decision on the run off to the left. Things will improve, but it’s nice to get that first game experience.”
He went on to add about the crisis, “That’s tough to say right now. Really, it’s the coaches’ decision. I think they really have confidence in all three quarterbacks that have performed so far. We’ll see what they do, but in the end, we’re all looking for the same goal. We’re looking to score. We’re looking to make plays. We’re all going to do our best to do that.”
Make no mistake, the youngster hasn’t done enough to be evaluated, but he isn’t lacking confidence. He said, “I’m very confident in myself. I told Coach D that. My confidence is as high as it has been since I’ve been here. Today, I didn’t show that. I didn’t show what I needed to show to move the ball, to get the team to win a championship. So I’ll watch the film and getting that first experience is great. We’ll improve from here and see where we go.”
So where does that leave the situation?
After the game the Spartans headman Mark Dantonio said this about O’Connor, “Well he almost got a pick in the red zone. I felt like it was his first opportunity to be in there and I felt like that was the thing to do.”
As I wrestled over the weekend about the offensive woes of a Spartan team with a national championship caliber defense I kept watching the game tape. Over and over I saw it and as I wondered each time where O’Connor was, I kept going back to the answers.
Not Tyler’s answers. He is young, but he isn’t stupid. He knows that this is as political as anything and the right answer won’t get him game reps, but the wrong answer could cost him. I thought about the answers the coaches provided.
So on Sunday night I asked Dantonio. I said that I have known him a long time and those of us that have spent a great deal of time with him do understand his moral compass. Being fair is of the utmost importance to Dantonio. How could he and Warner reference the benching of O’Connor when Cook had made a running error and nearly thrown an interception the week before not just in the REDZONE, but in the ENDZONE. He gave Cook the start the next week and benched O’Connor for it.
His answer was not surprising from the honest Dantonio. Was it fair? He said, “Good question, I’m not sure. I just have to make these decisions at game time. I can’t make them after the fact. After the fact, may feel a little different by but I’m dealing in the present. The ball is on the five‑yard line‑‑ the biggest concern was the play before where we took the five‑yard loss. I didn’t think that he called the play correctly in the huddle, and that’s a part of all this.”
He went on saying, “It’s not to knock on Tyler. It’s just that I felt like at that point in time, we would go back in a different direction, and bottom line is, we’ve got to score points. And somebody has got to ignite a flame to this football team offensively, whether that be a wide receiver or a quarterback, whatever. And I do think we have some explosive runs to put on our tailbacks; that was a positive.”
He continued, “You know, I have to live in the present on game day, so that’s what I felt like I needed to do at that point in time, because systematically, in my mind, that’s the direction we were going to go. Bottom line is, someone needs to seize that opportunity when they have it and make good on it and not come up empty; not in the situation that we are in now. And in all honesty, I’m going to become more impatient as time goes, and I expect more. As time goes on, I expect more. When they get opportunities, the next time he gets an opportunity, he’ll be more at ease and he’ll make better decisions.”
With Dantonio what he doesn’t say is ALMOST as important as the things he talks about. I have never known him to lie to the media or anyone else and I admire him for that. One thing that stood out to me was this statement, “After the fact, may feel a little different.”
I do believe that he feels differently now. Why? Because it wasn’t fair. In fact O’Connor had reason to be disgusted after the game and although I am sure he felt it, he was a freshman rock star in not showing it.
I have no clue if Tyler O’Connor will grow into the next Drew Stanton as many inside the program feel. What I do know is that he has done a lot to get the praise of many on this team and before they pull the redshirt off of a true freshman he deserves a real opportunity.
Once he gets a legitimate shot, it is up to him. He has to keep it, but he has earned the right to compete for the job on the field. If going back to Maxwell was a viable thing, he shouldn’t have been running scout team during game week. To say you had to go back to him made zero sense. We know what he gives. Is he the best long term (2013) viable option? He might be. Do we know that yet? No ,and they are running out of time to find out.
However this staff decides to handle the QB situation moving forward, it is their call. It shouldn’t be handled with the cries of the fans or the bemoaning of media members. Ultimately coaches are hired and fired by their choices. Players must live with the ones they make on and off the field.
What ultimately matters is that coaches and players deserve a chance to show what they have. If I am Mark Dantonio, I still don’t know what O’Connor can give me in a game situation; he hasn’t played enough. He liked him enough to recruit him and O’Connor liked what Dantonio was selling because he could have gone anywhere and he chose East Lansing.
He deserves the opportunity to show what he can do. He deserves go into a game and not look over his shoulder wondering if he will get pulled. Dantonio talks about finding the inches. He has said that football is not a perfect game. He wants a creator and creation comes when things break down. How can any of theses QBs create if they are fearful of the situations that inspire creativity? Dantonio craves experience, but that experience comes with overcoming adversity. Adversity in this program right now might get you pulled.
I do know this. The jury is out on O’Connor and that is a shame considering our first two opponents and how MSU played. One game, good or bad, won’ define any QB or a coach, but we better have a good idea about his readiness now after this coming Saturday.
If we don’t have a better idea after Saturday then O’Connor hasn’t failed, the coaches have. He has earned the chance. What he does with it is up to Tyler. Whether he gets it is ultimately up to Dantonio. I expect to see a lot of O’Connor on Saturday…and you should too.