When you are the quarterback and your team is inexplicably losing games, you are likely the first one people begin to look at. So, following a shocking 31-14 loss by Michigan State to BYU, it was only natural that the quarterback play would be put under a microscope.
Tyler O’Connor has been a convenient scapegoat for what is happening to the Spartans. His play is an easy target, especially following losses to BYU and Wisconsin. Things just haven’t been clicking, and in the search for a spark on offense, O’Connor took a seat for Damion Terry in the second half against the Cougars.
However, we submit to you that O’Connor, and the quarterback position as a whole, is but one in a myriad of problems for the Spartans.
There’s an offensive line that seems to be unable to handle good defensive lines, resulting in a run game that hasn’t gotten going against good defenses.
MSU’s rushing offense was stifled on Saturday, gaining just 85 yards as a team. It also put up just 75 yards against the Badgers, following a breakout game (260 yards) against Notre Dame the week before that.
Dantonio’s program has always been built on rushing the ball well, and it is no coincidence that in two of its three straight losses, the run game was a non-factor. But, it isn’t the only reason.
There’s also a defense that has increasingly had issues against the run too. After starting off the season giving up 144 yards in two games, the Spartans defense has given up 122 yards to Wisconsin, 156 yards to Indiana and 260 yards to BYU on the ground.
Talk about trending in the wrong direction.
MSU’s defense has also had issues against the pass this season. They came in to the BYU game ranked 12th in the Big Ten, giving up 239.8 yards per game through the air.
On Saturday, things got pretty ugly there too. Taysom Hill, who has struggled as a passer in his final collegiate season, went 18 of 27 for 138 yards and a touchdown. He also picked on an MSU secondary that featured some very un-Spartan like roster moves.
If Michigan State doesn't have any better options at cornerback than a freshman wide receiver, oh my
— Kyle Austin (@kylebaustin) October 8, 2016
Oh, and then there’s a lack of consistency from the quarterback position too. O’Connor hasn’t been that good over the last three weeks, completing just 57 percent of his passes and averaging a brutal 181.7 yards per game.
He also has thrown just three touchdowns, while throwing a trio of interceptions as well in the last three games.
Things weren’t exactly much better with Damion Terry entering the game either. He finished the day 6 of 10 for 61 yards and one interception through the air, while putting up 29 yards and a touchdown on the ground.
Those numbers, especially the lack of yardage production (just 121 total yards passing), won’t get it done for this program. Neither will the lack of change on the play calling front, as it was same thing, hoping for different results with Terry in the game.
MSU making a QB change. Looks like Damion Terry. If they don't change the play calling, nothing will change.
— Hondo Carpenter (@HondoCarpenter) October 8, 2016
But, it is more than just what is happening at quarterback. Problems exist in the area that this team was supposed to be strongest in coming in to the season — the offensive and defensive lines.
Spartans coaches have to sort those issues out quickly, because the schedule is only going to get more difficult. It also needs to figure out how they are struggling up front with names like Brian Allen on the offensive line and Malik McDowell on the defensive line.
Those two are some of the best at their positions in the country, and despite their talent the groups they head up are faltering against top competition.
Maybe it is the program making a small slide backwards after reaching a crescendo in the College Football Playoff last year? Maybe it is players simply believing in the hype and not dedicating enough to their craft?
Or maybe it is something outsiders will never be able to figure out, but it is on Michigan State’s coaching staff to figure out a formula that will work to salvage what is already a disappointing season by current Spartans standards.