O’Connor takes big step toward being ‘the man’ at MSU

Matt Charboneau
The Detroit News
Tyler O'Connor hands off to Madre London during Saturday's game.

East Lansing – Since spring practice began, Tyler O’Connor has all his goals set as the background on his cell phone.

The fifth-year senior talked about many of those things in the minutes after Michigan State’s Cotton Bowl loss to Alabama, and those were on his mind every day over the last month as the Spartans completed their spring workouts.

“I wanted to be the man on offense,” O’Connor said. “I wanted to be the man on the team, wanted to be someone that guys can come to on and off the field. I wanted to be more consistent, be more accurate.”

Judging from his play in Saturday’s Green-White Game in front of 51,000 at Spartan Stadium – a record crowd for the spring game – O’Connor is well on his way to achieving all those goals. His Green team lost, 14-11, to the White team, but O’Connor was clearly the best quarterback on the field.

He completed 10-of-16 passes for 138 yards and a touchdown, that coming on a 13-yard strike in the corner of the end zone to freshman wide receiver Cam Chambers late in the third quarter with the Green team trailing, 14-3. He followed that with a two-point conversion throw to Matt Macksood that brought the Green team to within three points.

“I think Tyler has done a nice job,” quarterbacks coach Brad Salem said. “He’s a fifth-year guy and being behind Connor (Cook), it was just continue to emerge as a leader and don’t be afraid to be vocal. Even though we’ve said this is a quarterback competition, he’s done a nice job and you see him and the way he carries himself. Kids rally around him, and he’s a guy that makes people better around him.”

The final scoring drive saw O’Connor go 3-for-3, and he produced big plays with his legs.

“I felt comfortable really all day,” O’Connor said. “We just decided we were going to take some more shots downfield that drive and we actually tried to take a little more, but they played defenses that kind of fit toward the plays we had called. We called like a two-minute situation.”

It was probably the most impressive drive of the game for all of the quarterbacks, including junior Damion Terry, redshirt freshman Brian Lewerke and freshman Messiah deWeaver.

Terry was inconsistent at times for the White team, sailing several passes over the heads of his receivers. However, he responded late with a scramble and 18-yard pass to tight end Josiah Price before scoring the winning touchdown on a 3-yard run.

“I’m a perfectionist, so I’d put (my grade) at like a C,” Terry said. “Not too good, not terrible. There are some throws I wish I could have back that I make all the time, easy throws. That is definitely something I’ll keep working on this summer.

“But coming out with the W is the most important thing and I’m happy with the way we finished.”

The White team got on the board in the second quarter when Delton Williams scored on a 2-yard run. That came after senior kicker Michael Geiger put the Green on the board with a 42-yard field goal. Terry’s touchdown run came early in the third quarter before O’Connor capped the scoring with his pass to Chambers.

Lewerke was 2-for-9, his last pass getting intercepted by redshirt freshman David Dowell in the fourth quarter, deep in White territory to end any hopes of a comeback.

deWeaver led the White team’s first scoring drive, completing a 12-yard pass to Price and a 15-yard pass to Brandon Sowards. He finished 2-for-6 for 27 yards.

Coach Mark Dantonio said early in the spring that the quarterback race could go into the regular season, and he wasn’t backing away from that on Saturday.

“I think everybody wants to hear the coach say, ‘He’s the quarterback,’” Dantonio said. “I’m not gonna say, ‘He’s the quarterback,’ until we get in a game and see the production from the quarterback position. Until we see the production on a consistent level, I’m not gonna make the mistake of saying, ‘This guy is it,’ and put all the pressure on one guy. I want the pressure to be on the group of four. I want the pressure to be on the quarterback coach and I want the pressure to remain there among all of them for them to be consistent.

“It comes down to decision-making, creating, making plays and leadership. Tyler, I think, has done a nice job of that. The other guys have too, but they need to be consistent. He certainly has the most experience, but we’ll see how it all shakes out.”