Despite your typical Pure Michigan kind of day here in East Lansing, with flooded over rivers and snowy football fields, which caused the annual kids football clinic to be sent indoors today, the Michigan State football team still found a way to get out there and hold their annual Green vs. White spring football game today.
The game gave players a chance to show what they’ve got early on in the spring and also address a few questions that some may have about this football team as next season draws closer.
Of all these questions though, the one that certainly looms the largest is that of the quarterback situation with three different quarterbacks taking part in the game today, all with something to prove and a shot at the starting job come the fall.
It hasn’t been long though since the last time the Michigan State football program didn’t know who would be the starting quarterback heading into the spring. Four years ago, when Kirk Cousins was a red shirt sophomore quarterback at Michigan State, he found himself in a quarterback battle with fellow teammate Keith Nichol heading into the spring game and used that game to try to elevate his standing.
“I still remember that day like it was yesterday,” Cousins said. “Keith and I went back and forth and we couldn’t outdo each other.”
And this weekend, Cousins returned to the stadium where he made his name to serve as an analyst at this years spring game for the Big Ten Network. Before the game, Cousins addressed the media with a short press conference and gave his take on the Spartan’s current QB situation.
“It’s challenging,” Cousins said. “You feel the pressure. It’s only a spring game and the stadium is half full. And the weather is not ideal today and it’s only April. But you feel the pressure when you’re in a quarterback competition because you know you’re fighting for your job.”
And the person’s whose job it is to lose is certainly that of Andrew Maxwell. Maxwell started all 13 games last year for the Spartans,finishing the season going 7-6 with 13 touchdowns and 9 interceptions. However, in the Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl last season, Maxwell was yanked late in the game for a freshman Connor Cook who led a few drives late in the game to give the Spartans victory over TCU 17-16.
Ever since that game, there has been questions as to who the starting quarterback would be heading into next season; Maxwell or Cook? And throw into the pot red shirt freshman Tyler O’Connor who recently had himself an impressive spring practice, it makes this topic all the more interesting.
But with the spring game here, it was an opportunity for all three to show what they’ve got with Maxwell quarterbacking the White team, Cook the Green, and O’Connor playing for both sides.
In the first half of the game, the Maxwell led drives that looked a lot like the drives we became accustomed to seeing last fall, with many of them seeing zero to one first down time before his offense sputtered and was forced to punt. One particular drive where a Maxwell led offense came up short really ate Maxwell up.
“The one I was really sick over was the one I overthrew the post to Keith (Mumphery) on the third and short,” Maxwell said. “He had them beat, we were past the safety, I just overthrew him and I was just sick over it.”
It really wasn’t until late in the game where Maxwell started to pick up his game a little bit when he connected with receiver AJ Troup, who has really made a name for himself this spring, for a 46 yard touchdown to put the White on top 24-17, which would go on to be the final score.
“Anytime you can finish well, with a touchdown and with a win, that leaves you with a good taste in your mouth and leaves you feeling pretty good about how the spring game went,” Maxwell said.
For Cook, he led a couple of nice drives in the first half, including the final one which was highlighted by a 63 yard pass to Bennie Fowler before being capped off with a 22 yard hook up to DeAnthony Arnett in the end zone for a touchdown.
However, as for O’Connor, he had himself a rough day playing for the White team in the first half. While he did connect on a pass down field with receiver Aaron Burbridge at one point in the first half, he followed that play up with an interception and then later threw another pick right into the arms of Chris Laneaux for a 25 yard pick six.
“It was Tyler O’Connor’s first opportunity to play on live TV and in front of a large group of people,” Dantonio said. “He needs to play with a little bit more consistency and play better. He had a big turnover for a touchdown. Again, he was playing with the white team so he didn’t get as many snaps initially and we tried to force the issue at the end, playing him with the green a little bit.”
At the end of the day the final stat lines for the three quarterbacks looked like this:
Andrew Maxwell 9-20, 110 yards,1 touchdown
Connor Cook 10-26, 217 yards, 1 touchdown
Tyler O’Connor 3-7, 59 yards, 0 touchdowns, 2 interceptions
For now it looks like the position is still up for grabs between Cook and Maxwell, with neither quarterback really standing out much in today’s spring game. However, it does still appear that it is Maxwell’s job to lose as he does have one distinct factor to his advantage, that being his experience.
“I think from a decision-making standpoint, from an ability to run a whole operation, meaning the 25-second play clock or getting guys in and out of the huddle, having the whole operation run smoothly, which is a major job of the quarterback, Andrew’s gonna do that at a high level,” Cousins said before the game. “He’s intelligent, he’s in his fifth year, and that’s probably where he has an advantage over Tyler and Connor.”.
However, Cook is certainly right on his heels and is really gaining experience in this offense.
“I just feel so much more comfortable with everything; protections, plays, audibles, checks like that,” Cook said. “Especially going up against our defense, this is my third year in a row. There is stuff I see now that I never saw last year or in my first year.”
For now though, Dantonio still says Maxwell is the guy to beat.
“I think you leave here at the end of spring saying that (Andrew) Maxwell comes into the summer camp number one based on knowledge and consistency in terms of performance,” Dantonio said.
Nevertheless, with his 7th spring game behind him, Coach Dantonio still has several months to decide who his starting quarterback will be this upcoming season. And we’ll see who that guy is when the Spartans take to the field August 30th against Western Michigan.
Follow Ryan Squanda on twitter @squandarunner