East Lansing — Tyler O’Connor had a pretty good idea how this was going to go.
As the starting quarterback for Michigan State, he understands this team expects to compete for championships.
And there’s a certain amount of pressure that goes with that, and when things don’t go well, the quarterback is going to hear about it.
That’s where O’Connor finds himself as No. 17 Michigan State prepares to face Indiana on Saturday night, a week after the fifth-year senior threw three interceptions in a home loss to Wisconsin.
“I knew all along this is what comes with it,” O’Connor said. “There will always be ridicule and actually Drew Stanton texted me after the game and said we deflect all the credit and take all the blame as quarterbacks in situations like this.
“I was prepared for it and fully expected it.”
It’s coming now as O’Connor has thrown five interceptions in three games and the offense looked anemic against the Badgers.
Not all the offense’s issues lie with O’Connor, but there’s no doubt he has struggled.
“He didn’t play as well as he wanted to, he didn’t play as well as we wanted him to,” co-offensive coordinator Dave Warner said. “I know he was frustrated with his performance and with some of the decisions he made, which is very important at the quarterback spot, plus his accuracy was not what it was in the past.
“It was a total offensive lack of production. It wasn’t just him, it wasn’t just our offensive line and running backs. It was certainly me, and it was everyone involved.”
Getting O’Connor to bounce back, however, might be the most important part of the offense finding its rhythm.
By the time Warner and coach Mark Dantonio texted O’Connor after the game, the quarterback already had watched the Wisconsin game twice.
And what he saw were plenty of mistakes.
“It was just a few plays where we have to play better,” O’Connor said “There were some protection errors and a few bad decisions by myself, but it was a full team loss. That’s why I think everybody is excited to get back on the practice field.”
While O’Connor has started four games during his career, the Spartans aren’t in the position for allowing too many growing pains. And frankly, they expect a bit more from a player in his fifth season in the program.
“We saw the good from him at Notre Dame and then we saw him struggle a little bit last week,” Warner said. “So we don’t want that. We want consistency and that’s what’s expected from the quarterback and that’s what he expects from himself.”
Dantonio said there is no quarterback controversy, but if the production continues to lack, it could get to that point.
Redshirt freshman Brian Lewerke played the final series against Wisconsin and threw an interception negated because of a pass interference penalty. He played with junior Damion Terry out with a minor injury.
Offensive coordinator Dave Warner talks about the play of QB Tyler O'Connor.
“They’re both right in the mix right there,” Warner said of Terry and Lewerke. “That’s a week-to-week deal, like our running back situation. Brian showed what he can do in a game situation the other day, so that raises his stock a little bit. No decision’s been made.”
Terry has been used primarily as a runner while Lewerke drew rave reviews during camp.
“That was good to get him in there,” Warner said of Lewerke. “It was good to see him under the gun a little bit, and I think he performed fairly well after you get that first interception that didn’t count. I thought he got the first one out of his system. He’s a guy that’s got some tools, and we’ve been saying that. The more we can get him on those situations, the more we can get him in game situations, the better off we’ll be.”
But for now, the priority is getting the confidence back for O’Connor.
“This hasn’t been the first time in his football career that something has gone wrong,” Dantonio said. “A lot of things can go wrong at that position. I’m sure he’s prepared to handle these things, and he has an opportunity to bounce back and make it happen.”
And O’Connor isn’t ducking the responsibility. He said he understood it would be difficult, and he is confident he is the right guy to lead the offense.
“The biggest thing you do is look yourself in the mirror and that’s what we have to do,” O’Connor said. “You look yourself in the mirror and be real about what just happened and not makes excuses.”
Sadler, Foltz remembered
The Big Ten will honor the memory of Nebraska punter Sam Foltz and Michigan State punter Mike Sadler with a special commemorative coin to be used this Saturday across all seven conference games. Officials and captains will use the commemorative flipping coin to honor the lives of Foltz and Sadler.
The coin was developed collaboratively by representatives from Nebraska, Michigan State, the Foltz and Sadler families and the Big Ten.
Foltz and Sadler died in a car crash on July 23, after attending a kicking camp in Wisconsin. Sadler was posthumously inducted into the Michigan State Athletics Hall of Fame last week.
Fifth-year senior tight end Josiah Price has been named a semifinalist for the William V. Campbell Trophy, which is awarded annually by the National Football Foundation to the nation’s top scholar-athlete.
Candidates for the “Academic Heisman” must be a senior or graduate student in their final year of eligibility, have a GPA of at least 3.2 on a 4.0 scale, have outstanding football ability as a first-team player or significant contributor, and have demonstrated strong leadership and citizenship.
This is the fifth time in the past six years that the Spartans have had a semifinalist for the Campbell Trophy. The Spartans had a finalist three of four years from 2011-14 (QB Kirk Cousins in 2011, LB Max Bullough in 2013, P Mike Sadler in 2014), and center Jack Allen was a semifinalist last season.
A hospitality business major, Price owns a 3.62 grade-point average. He is a three-time Academic All-Big Ten honoree and a two-time Big Ten Distinguished Scholar recipient. He also earned CoSIDA Academic All-District honors last season. On the field, Price has the most touchdown catches (17) of any tight end in Michigan State history.
Michigan State at Indiana
Kickoff: 8 p.m. Saturday, Memorial Stadium, Bloomington, Ind.
Records: No. 17 Michigan State 2-1 (0-1 Big Ten), Indiana 2-1 (0-0)
Line: Michigan State by 6.5
Series: Michigan State leads 45-15-2 (Michigan State 52-26, Oct. 24, 2015)