Michigan State Football position battle: Quarterback

What a difference a year makes. At this time last year there was little to no certainty as to who would be at the helm of the Michigan State offense. It wasn’t really until the start of the Big Ten season that MSU had decided on a signal caller.

This year there is no doubt that it is Connor Cook’s team from the start. The only thing to be decided in fall camp is who will be the number two quarterback behind Cook and how the Spartans will use Damion Terry. Here is a breakdown of what each brings to the table:

Connor Cook: We start with Cook, who led the Spartans back to Pasadena for the first time in a quarter-century and was named the Offensive MVP in the Spartans’ win over Stanford in the Rose Bowl. Cook started the final 13 games for Michigan State last year, improving as the season went on, and was named second-team All-Big Ten by the coaches.

Cook completed almost 59% of his passes as a sophomore and threw for 2,755 yards with 22 touchdowns and six interceptions. The 22 TDs were tied for second among Big Ten QBs and the six INTs were tied for the fewest. He finished the season with back to back 300+ yard passing performances in the B1G Championship Game and the Rose Bowl.

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Unlike last year, Cook will come into this season with the starting job, and with big time expectations. After leading the comeback win in the Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl as a freshman and winning the Big Ten and the Rose Bowl as a sophomore, there isn’t much left for Cook to do as an encore outside of getting MSU into the College Football Playoff. He is only a junior though and if he does take another big step forward, Connor Cook could be one of the best quarterbacks in not only the Big Ten, but in the entire country.

Tyler O’Connor: O’Connor was listed as the number two quarterback in the spring behind Cook and probably has the inside track to the full time backup job. O’Connor is a 6-3, 219-pound sophomore who appeared in three games last year. He saw some action early when the MSU coaching staff was still waiting to see if anyone would take the job and run with it. He was 9-of-14 for 90 yards last year but didn’t throw a pass after the Youngstown State game.

O’Connor started for the Green Team in MSU’s spring game this year and was 12-of-23 for 138 yards with a touchdown and three interceptions. He also carried the ball three times for 24 yards.

O’Connor is still learning but he is a big, strong, traditional pocket passer with some decent mobility out of the backfield. He has a strong arm and was a highly sought after recruit out of Ohio and was part of the Elite 11 camp coming out of high school. In the case of an injury to Cook, the coaches could slide O’Connor in without having to make massive changes to the playbook or game plan based on his skill set.

Damion Terry: Here is the guy that holds the most intrigue for Spartan fans. Last year, during the early season quarterback carousel, many fans wanted to get a look at the true freshman with the crazy athleticism that lit up the field in the Spartans second fall scrimmage and wowed members of the nation’s top defense. In the end the right decision was made and Terry was red-shirted while Connor Cook took over the starting job and the rest, as they say, is history.

Michigan State Football

MSU QB Damion Terry

While O’Connor is a typical drop back passer, Terry is more of a Russell Wilson type QB who can use his legs as well as his arm to move the ball down the field. Terry however, is not a small guy. At 6-3, 230 lbs. Terry has plenty of size to play the position.

In the MSU Spring Game Terry opened the scoring with a 23-yard touchdown run for the White Team that got the crowd on its feet. Terry took snaps for both teams and was 2-of-5 for 30 yards and rushed for 32 yards on three carries. He had to leave the game momentarily after he came up favoring his non-throwing shoulder after taking a rough hit.

Terry had surgery to repair a torn labrum in his left shoulder following spring camp, possibly suffering the injury on the hit in the Spring Game. He is expected to be ready in time for the season opener against Jacksonville State but if he is limited in fall camp that will likely hurt his chances to win the backup spot.

 

Outlook: Despite the youth of MSU’s quarterbacks, they are a pretty deep group. Cook will be starting as a junior having already put together a great season as a sophomore. O’Connor and Terry are both highly regarded QB’s who bring different traits to the table but have shown the coaches what they are capable of should they be called on.

I expect O’Connor to be listed as the official number two when the season starts and should see some action early in the year for MSU against some of their lesser non-conference opponents. However, I also expect to see Damion Terry on the field for MSU, possibly throughout the season. Terry has too much explosiveness and talent to keep him off the field. I expect, and Coach Dantonio hinted at, that Michigan State will have a special package of plays for Terry that they will deploy throughout the season. It will likely be similar to the way that Florida used Tim Tebow as a freshman with Chris Leak as the starter in 2006, although they probably won’t use Terry as much as Tebow was used.

It has to feel good for Michigan State football fans to know they are set at the quarterback position coming into the season, especially after last year’s uncertainty. And I would bet that Coach Dantonio and Offensive Coordinator Dave Warner feel a similar sense of relief knowing they have their signal caller in place and that he’s a pretty good one at that.