East Lansing, Mich— Coming into Friday’s game against Boise State the questions surrounding the Michigan State program were focused on the lack of experience from the quarterback and wide receiver positions.
Many Spartan fans didn’t know what to expect from junior quarterback Andrew Maxwell, as many were anxious to see how he would compare to former Spartans quarterback Kirk Cousins.
Wide receivers Bennie Fowler and Tony Lippett, also unproven, were looking to take hold of the starting receiver spots that have been up for grabs for most of the spring and summer.
Neither group got off to a great start.
Maxwell threw three first-half interceptions that really set the tone for the Spartans passing attack early.
The first interception came in the first quarter when Maxwell threw a great pass to Lippett who let the ball go right through his hands to Boise State’s Jamar Taylor. Maxwell put the ball exactly where it needed to be, but the sophomore receiver wasn’t able to make a play. This interception was in no way Maxwell’s fault.
In almost similar fashion, the second interception hit off running back Larry Caper’s hands into the hands of Boise State defender Jeremy Ioane, who returned it for a touchdown. Once again, not Maxwell’s fault.
At this point, Maxwell had to have lost a little trust in his receiver due to the fact the Spartans two turnovers were caused by dropped balls. This is hard for any new starter to overcome, especially in a setting as big as the one Maxwell was placed in Friday night.
However, unlike the previous interceptions, the third interception was clearly Maxwell’s fault.
With 13 seconds left in the half, the Spartans had the ball at the 23-yard line when Maxwell threw a pass a few feet behind Fowler who was open across the middle, and probably would have scored if the ball was put on target.
Going into halftime any quarterback, not just a newly starting quarterback, would be rattled in the second-half after three early interceptions.
However, Maxwell had a strong second-half, going 11-of-16 for 145 yards. He didn’t look amazing, but if anything Spartan fans should be excited about the near future because he shook off the jitters and looked more comfortable throwing the ball in the second-half, which shows maturity.
On another note, the not so extravagant game from receiver Tony Lippett, who caused an interception and fumbled the ball after catching a great pass from Maxwell in the second-half, could also help the Spartans offense in the future.
Lippett did not look confident and wasn’t a trustworthy target at all for Maxwell, and in all honesty, that could be better for the Spartans.
Maxwell needs to find confidence with his receivers, which he found with Fowler and tight end Dion Sims, and at least he knows now that Lippett is probably not that guy to go to on 3rd and long. That lack of trust could cause Maxwell to build a better connection with Fowler, who came to Michigan State the same time as the quarterback.
Also, hopefully for the Spartan’s sake, Lippett uses his very forgetful game in a constructive way and wants to prove to his teammates, and the rest of the country, that he is reliable.
Another possible solution could be that another receiver, Keith Mumphrey or DeAnthony Arnett, take advantage and try to take Lippett’s starting role from him. Which would cause competition at the starting receiver position, a problem that I’m sure the Spartans coaching staff wouldn’t mind having.
It is key that Maxwell establishes a trusting relationship with his receivers in the near future, so that the Michigan State offense can be more than just the Le’Veon Bell show.
The turnovers that the Spartans suffered against Boise State could possibly be the most important thing that happened to the Spartans because it will help this inexperienced passing attack grow up sooner, rather than later.
Making one mistake isn’t bad, but making the same mistake twice is, and if Maxwell and the receivers can prevent making the same mistakes that they did against Boise, then they will be in good shape going forward.