Will Michigan State turn to QB Messiah deWeaver?
East Lansing — Mark Dantonio has faced his share of tough decisions in 10 seasons at Michigan State, but he might be facing one of the more difficult ones over the final four weeks of the season.
Does he dare burn the redshirt of a freshman quarterback that could be the future of the program? With fifth-year senior Tyler O’Connor limping around on a bad foot, junior Damion Terry getting knocked from the game last week and redshirt freshman Brian Lewerke lost for the season with a broken leg, is there a scenario where it makes sense to play Messiah deWeaver in the final four games of the regular season?
It’s not a question Dantonio likely ever figured he’d have to ponder, and he might not give it a second thought this week. However, Michigan State (2-6, 0-5 Big Ten) finds itself in a position it never imagined it would be, needing to win out just to become bowl eligible.
The “Back2Back” mantra died a couple of weeks ago, and with any postseason hopes nearly extinguished, making a move for the future would not be the worst move.
However, Dantonio has remained steadfast all season — he’s playing for now, not about to cash in a season for a group of seniors that has won a pair of Big Ten championships and never won less than 11 games in a season heading into this year.
“Really, to me the future is next week,” Dantonio said on Sunday. “I mean, it really is because we’re going to continue to try to win games and whoever gives us the best chance to do that is who we’re going to play. In the meantime, guys that are younger, they’re getting opportunities in practice and they may get opportunities in games if things dictate that.”
It certainly has dictated younger players seeing the field at virtually every other position group on the field. Some has been out of necessity due to injuries, others because Dantonio went with the guy he believes gives Michigan State the best chance to win.
To date, nine true freshmen have played. Wide receiver Donnie Corley was the only real guarantee coming into the season, but he’s had plenty of company since. Trishton Jackson and Justin Layne joined him at receiver with Layne moving over to defense and starting twice at cornerback. Thiyo Lukusa has played at right tackle while ends Josh King and Auston Robertson, as well as tackle Mike Panasiuk, are getting significant reps on the defensive line.
In addition to Layne in the secondary, safety Kenney Lyke joined the club two weeks ago, as did middle linebacker Joe Bachie. Add in the group of redshirt freshmen and sophomores now playing key roles and it’s clear Michigan State is a young team building for the future.
Some seniors are still in there battling — Riley Bullough, R.J. Shelton and Kodi Kieler among them. But a good chunk of the core of Michigan State’s future is on the field now.
Could deWeaver be next?
While there’s a case to be made for playing him, there’s just as strong a case for keeping him on the sidelines. There’s no doubt deWeaver would have his share of growing pains and there would be concern it would hurt his confidence going into next season. And of course there’s the practical issue of keeping him physically healthy, something none of the three quarterbacks who have played this season have done.
And what if the decision is taken out of Dantonio’s hands? What if O’Connor and Terry are hurt again? Does Dantonio go with deWeaver or Colar Kuhns, a walk-on who has never taken a snap?
“We’ll certainly look at that and evaluate that along with Colar Kuhns, a guy that’s been in our program and who’s been a non-scholarship player, but he’s got some talent,” Dantonio said. “We’ll look at that and see what’s the best way to go in terms of who the No. 3 quarterback is, but you certainly want to see Messiah progress. It’s again about, if something happens, who’s playing, so you have to be prepared for that, too.”
There’s been some preparation happening all season. While deWeaver has spent most of his time running the scout team, there has been work with him, including after practice, allowing him to ask questions and get a better understanding of the offense.
“A lot of it is he’s over at scout team, but we’re getting some reps with our offense in certain situations just to keep him in our verbiage,” quarterbacks coach Brad Salem said a couple of weeks ago. “The process of quarterback just never ends regardless of where you are. It’s always just knowledge, quickness of making decisions, knowing where to go with the football.”
In spring practice, de Weaver can learn more — it will be his second after enrolling early last year — and throughout a summer of working with his receivers. He can also learn it live, on the field for the final four games.
The choice is difficult, to be sure, but it’s one Dantonio could be pondering.