September 11, 2013 at 1:00 am

Bob Wojnowski

MSU's Dantonio must choose a quarterback, and it should be Maxwell

Mark Dantonio on generating more offense
Mark Dantonio on generating more offense: Dantonio says team needs to create more explosive plays.

East Lansing Mark Dantonio isnt ruling anything out, or ruling anything in. He might use one quarterback, or two or three. He might use a freshman, a sophomore, or a senior. He might punt on second down and hope defensive end Shilique Calhoun keeps scoring.

This is confusing and increasingly ridiculous. Its good to have an open mind and embrace change, but not three weeks into a season. Michigan State is the most discombobulated 2-0 team in the country, and if you thought the quarterback crisis was about to clear up haha, good one.

Connor Cook apparently, and surprisingly, will start Saturday against Youngstown State, at least as of Tuesday afternoon. Dantonio also could turn to freshman Damion Terry, now No. 2 on the depth chart, the last shiny package yet to be opened.

I still think senior Andrew Maxwell should be the guy because of his experience. Michigan States defense is too good to waste preparing for the future. Sometimes you go hunting for more and dont find it, and when you circle back, the incumbent doesnt look so bad.

In an attempt to save a mediocre offense, Dantonio is threatening to ruin a promising season, and he needs to stop. This has to be the last week of open tryouts, with Notre Dame next on the schedule. Two quarterbacks played in the opener. Three played last week. And today, Michigan State ranks 123rd out of 123 teams with 3.4 passing yards per attempt.

The Spartans cant forget who they are a grind-it-out team with a sensational defense. Give the ball to Maxwell, boost his confidence and tell him its his job as long as he minimizes mistakes.

Sometimes its just a gut decision, but above all else, we want to find the one guy, Dantonio said. We want the one guy to emerge, and I dont care who it is.

Experience counts

Fans are chanting for Terry and his playmaking ability, and he might get a shot. But he was sick last week and his youth presents a huge gamble. Cook hasnt shown passing touch to go with his strong legs. Tyler O Connor mixes nice plays and gaffes.

This is not the time for experimentation. Dantonio must pick and stick, and when the Spartans walk into Notre Dame Stadium in 10 days, Id have Maxwell as the starter and one of the others as a change-of-pace guy. Maxwells biggest crime, besides his own indecisiveness, is that he hasnt developed into Kirk Cousins. He has completed 50 percent of his passes without a touchdown or an interception. During last seasons 7-6 crumbling, he had 13 touchdowns and nine interceptions, and had to be shaken by the drop-happy receivers.

Dantonio swore such offensive inconsistency wouldnt happen again. Its fine to swear it, harder to do it. Those who thought the Spartans wouldnt miss tough runner LeVeon Bell were fooling themselves. Same thing for anyone who assumed the receiving corps suddenly would stop dribbling the ball all over the field.

Dantonio even showed his indecisiveness picking an offensive coordinator, appointing two Dave Warner and Jim Bollman. So far, they look overmatched. The Spartans usually are very good at playing to their strengths, not pretending to be something they arent. With Cousins, passing was a strength. Now they have a defense stellar enough to win games by itself, which is exactly what its done with four touchdowns in two games (compared to the offenses two).

Dantonio often references his stint as defensive coordinator on the 2002 Ohio State national championship team that won all sorts of ugly ways. No one is comparing this team to Ohio State, at least not sober. But with a dominant defense, the Spartans just need a quarterback who can complete a third-and-4 pass. They may look like a 7-5 team right now, but if they keep knocking the ball loose, and the receivers finally hang onto it, nothing is lost yet.

Of course, you couldnt tell Tuesday, when Dantonio spent considerable time answering questions such as: Why didnt you fix this stinky offense before now?!

You think youd find out in the spring, Dantonio said. You think youd find out in the summer. But obviously we did not. Most of the day, this is preoccupying our thoughts. You cant let it overwhelm you because its not going to get fixed if you let it overwhelm you.

It's on Dantonio

This falls directly on the coaches, ultimately on Dantonio. He built a lot of trust equity in East Lansing with back-to-back 11-victory seasons, and theres no sense squandering it. Michigan State has heard boos in each game, which happens when you punt 18 times 18! against Western Michigan and South Florida.

Mike Sadler is a great punter and a good guy, but sorry, no one wants to see his artistry.

Do I have the confidence we can get things structurally fixed? Yes I do, Dantonio said. I ask the tough questions what are we doing that we werent doing when Kirk Cousins led the conference in passing? Its not like were conjuring up something brand new.

Theres a chance the Spartans simply arent skilled enough or experienced enough. The offensive line has to be better. Touted receiver Aaron Burbridge is still finding his way. Jeremy Langford and Riley Bullough might run hard, but theyre not Bell.

This is a major test for Dantonio, whos willing to be the target to protect the psyche of his players. But he damages those psyches every time he hits the music and does the quarterback shuffle.

One more free look Saturday, and then its time to pick and stick. If no one else grabs the job, he has to give it back to the safe senior, Maxwell, and let the defense do the rest.

bob.wojnowski@detroitnews.com
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Senior Andrew Maxwell owns the most experience among Michigan State's candidates for starting quarterback. / Dale G. Young / Detriot News