MSU in 'win-now' mode, not looking to '17
East Lansing — While many Michigan State fans are starting to wonder if personnel moves might be made with the future in mind, coach Mark Dantonio wants it to be known he has every intention of playing to win.
After Saturday’s 31-14 loss to BYU, the third straight for a Spartan team that hasn’t dropped three in a row since 2009, the head coach remains focused on turning things around now, and that includes a decision about who will be the starting quarterback.
“What we do at this point in time we’ll revisit and re-evaluate, self-scout ourselves in every respect, and try to make the best decision to win now,” Dantonio said in his weekly teleconference Sunday night. “Not to win in 2017, but to win now, and that’s what we’ll do.”
As has been the case since the first loss three weeks ago against Wisconsin, most of the concern has surrounded the play of quarterback Tyler O’Connor. The fifth-year senior has not played poorly, but he hasn’t been a difference-maker, either. And while Dantonio has routinely said not all of the blame should be placed on O’Connor, he did make a move Saturday against BYU.
Early in the fourth quarter, Dantonio inserted junior Damion Terry into the lineup even though O’Connor only attempted three passes after the touchdown-producing, opening drive of the game. Terry’s results were mixed as he was intercepted on his first drive but returned to lead a touchdown drive on the next drive with BYU protecting a 17-point lead.
“Well, it’s a combination of everything again, a cumulative effect,” Dantonio said of the offensive problems. “Quarterback throws the ball, you gotta make the catch. We had two drops, probably for first downs, both. One we overcame, one we did not. … At the end of the day quarterback is about production, too. And I just felt like we needed to be more productive as an offense, and it can be a variety of things, a lot of things. Some of it’s in his hands, some of it’s not in his hands.
“I don’t think (O’Connor) played terrible by any stretch. He can’t take the sacks. You got to keep things alive. I made the decision that we needed to breathe life into our offense a little bit. With seven points at the end of the third quarter, I felt like we needed to do something new, to try and create a spark.”
Dantonio stressed there has been no decision made at this point but said he and his staff had lengthy discussions on Sunday about the situation.
“We’ve had internal talks and with all due respect we need to keep that in-house,” Dantonio said. “We talked at length today. We need to keep those decisions right now in-house for the benefit of everybody here.”
Odds are the discussions went beyond just playing O’Connor or Terry. Redshirt freshman Brian Lewerke played a series against Wisconsin and true freshman Messiah deWeaver’s future has to be considered, as well.
And while the attention remains on quarterback, there are evaluations going on all over the field. Running back continues to be a revolving door while young players are getting more and more opportunities at receiver and both interior lines. Also, freshman receiver Justin Layne will likely be getting far more work at cornerback.
“We looked at quite a few different scenarios with different people for a lot of different reasons,” Dantonio said. “Moving different people different places or switching some different people out.”
Dantonio wouldn’t elaborate Sunday night on any potential moves, preferring to let that play out throughout the week, but he did say it’s something the Spartans do routinely.
“We always look to see who’s playing the best and try to put an emphasis on how you practice and how you play in games,” Dantonio said. “If you’re not playing well enough, somebody else gets an opportunity. We all try to do that. That’s the nature of football in general.
“But like I said, in fairness to everybody involved, we’re going to evaluate what we did, as well, structurally. And I think that’s important that we and myself, that we take responsibility for this first and foremost.”
Doing that, Dantonio hopes, helps Michigan State end the skid it’s currently on with a return to Big Ten play Saturday at home against Northwestern.
“I think any time something like this happens, it shakes you up a little bit,” Dantonio said. “You’ve got to go back to exactly what made you a good football player, what allowed us to be successful, build yourself back up confidently, and ask yourself what’s your level of confidence within your own self, and also what’s your level of confidence in your teammates, and your coaches.
“This is a process, there’s no question about that. This is a process that everyone goes through at some point in time somewhere in their life, whether it’s on a football field or someplace else. You go through a process of handling your problems and digging yourself out of a hole. It just doesn’t happen if you sit there and feel sorry for yourself.”
Northwestern at Michigan State
Kickoff: 3:30 p.m. Saturday, Spartan Stadium, East Lansing
Line: Michigan State by 6½
Records: Northwestern 2-3, 1-1 Big Ten: Michigan State 2-3, 0-2
Series: Michigan State leads 37-17 (Last: 2013 — Michigan State 30, (at) Northwestern 6)