Michigan State QB picture as muddled as ever
East Lansing – The quarterback question has been hounding Michigan State all season, and following Saturday’s 32-23 loss to No. 2 Michigan, that’s not changing anytime soon.
The Spartans (2-6, 0-5 Big Ten) lost their sixth straight for the first time since 1982, and they played three quarterbacks in the process. Figuring out who plays for the final four games of the season doesn’t seem any clearer.
“That’s too early to tell,” Michigan State coach Mark Dantonio said.
After playing a backup role the last two weeks, fifth-year senior Tyler O’Connor was back in as the starter against the Wolverines and was at the helm as Michigan State marched 12 plays on the opening drive to take a 7-0 lead on a 5-yard run from LJ Scott. But the momentum was halted there and at the end of the half, O’Connor threw an interception that allowed Michigan to add a field goal and take a 27-10 lead into the locker room.
On Michigan State’s only possession of the third quarter it was stopped despite having it first-and-goal from the Michigan 2 after running four straight times but coming away still trailing by 17. By the time the next drive started early in the fourth quarter, Dantonio opted to go with junior Damion Terry, leaving redshirt freshman Brian Lewerke on the bench, even though he started the previous two games.
“Quarterback decisions were made based on our coaching staff,” Dantonio said. “If I had to go to a week of practice, all those guys make plays. All those guys have that opportunity to be in the football game. I asked who should be the guy earlier in the week, they felt like it was Damion, based on practice. And then when I asked at game time, they felt like it should be Damion. I felt like he needed that opportunity as well.”
Lewerke got the call after Terry suffered an injury and got the offense moving. He connected with Monty Madaris for a 20-yard touchdown to cut the Michigan lead to 30-17 with 7:31 to play and had the Spartans in the red zone again on the next series.
However, he was sacked on fourth down and was knocked out of the game with an apparent leg injury. O’Connor came back in and threw a 5-yard touchdown pass to freshman Donnie Corley for the final touchdown.
“I wanted the other two quarterbacks coming back next year to get a taste of this football game,” Dantonio said. “It was very important to get them game experience against UM. That was very important and that’s what we did. Damion took us down the field, an opportunity to score there, too. But we kicked the field goal and missed.
“(Lewerke) has done some good things – you’ve seen some of the things he has done out there. Came back with Tyler after Brian got up gingerly, and he took us down the field. So, Tyler did a nice job, but I thought it was important that these other guys get an opportunity here.”
O’Connor finished 7-for-14 for 84 yards and a touchdown with one interception while Lewerke was 6-for-10 for 100 yards and a score. Terry was 0-for-4 and ran for 11 yards while Lewerke ran for 24.
Health could play a role in who starts next week at Illinois as all are dealing with issues. O’Connor did not play last week because of a foot injury while Terry and Lewerke were both hurt Saturday.
“I don’t know. It’s not a great situation,” co-offensive coordinator Dave Warner said of the health of the group. “But I thought they all did some great things today, but as plays were made, we probably could have made some different decisions. We’ll evaluate, as we’ve been doing the past couple weeks, we’ll evaluate both physically and game plan and execution-wise in practice and then we’ll go from there.”
Corley made his debut on defense, playing cornerback in nickel package situations and almost coming up with an interception in the fourth quarter.
“I think he has the skills to play out there,” Dantonio said. “He was recruited here to be a possible two-way player. If we see people with those types of skills, we’re going to do that. So we’ll give him the opportunity to play in nickel situations. I think maybe even a couple of other snaps he was in there, other than the nickel situations when we had Darian Hicks at the STAR. So we actually played with three corners there.”
Michigan State is thin in the secondary as safety Demetrious Cox and cornerback Vayante Copeland did not play. Freshmen Grayson Miller and Khari Willis started at safety while Hicks and freshman Justin Layne started at cornerback.
Layne, like Corley, was recruited primarily as a receiver.
“That was something that was talked about back in recruiting,” co-defensive coordinator Harlon Barnett said of Corley playing defense. “It was something that he always wanted to do. With the injuries and everything, we thought it was time to bring him over and give him some reps.”
Corley switched to jersey No. 29 from No. 9 to play defense, as safety Montae Nicholson also wears No. 9.
Big day for Scott
Scott had his second straight 100-yard rushing game, gaining 139 on 22 carries. Michigan State gained 217 yards on the ground, going over the 200-yard mark for the second straight game.
The 217 yards was the second-most allowed on the ground this season by Michigan, which allowed 275 against Central Florida.
… Michigan State is 0-5 in the Big Ten for the first time since 1982. Its first win came against Indiana as it finished 2-7 in the conference.