Nine days ago, Mark Dantonio officially named Connor Cook MSU’s starting quarterback.
Following a 55-17 thrashing of Youngstown State, it was an admission by football head coach Dantonio and the MSU staff the sophomore quarterback Cook gives the Spartans the best chance to win games, thus ending weeks of quarterback uncertainty.
Yet, when the Spartans ran into their first true pressure situation of the season Saturday against No. 22 Notre Dame, Dantonio fumbled the decision unlike any other time during his seven-year tenure at MSU.
With the Spartans trailing 17-13 with 2:11 remaining and 67 yards to get into the end zone, Dantonio elected to replace Cook with senior quarterback Andrew Maxwell, who had not taken a snap with the team’s first-team offense in nearly two weeks.
As expected for any quarterback who’s spent the past several weeks with an entirely different unit, Maxwell looked out of rhythm and out of touch, turning the ball over after three incomplete passes and a desperation rush well short of the marker on 4th down.
But you can’t blame Maxwell for the way the game ended, nor can you blame Cook for being replaced at that point of the game.
Dantonio and the coaches absolutely screwed it up.
After the game, Dantonio said putting in Maxwell was a ploy to see what the senior quarterback could do.
“We put him in there just to try to change the pace,” he said. “Felt like he needed an opportunity, should give him an opportunity. Tough situation to put him in at.”
It was not fair to throw Maxwell into that situation after being inactive for 134 minutes dating back to the third quarter against South Florida on Sept. 7. It also shafted Cook out of a chance to lead the team to victory — a chance usually afforded to a team’s starting quarterback.
And really, what was the best case scenario of the situation? Say Maxwell comes in and wins the game, then what?
The Spartans celebrate the win and then face two grueling weeks of “As The MSU Quarterback World Turns,” reopening the door for criticism and controversy for the position heading into Big Ten play.
I doubt that’s what Dantonio wants. So why make that move?
There’s an argument to be made that freshman wide receiver R.J. Shelton’s intercepted flea flicker pass in the third quarter was a bigger blow to MSU, given it halted an offensive drive and seemingly changed the momentum of the game.
Now, I didn’t like that coaching call either, but the move to put Maxwell in still is worse.
Shelton’s play was an isolated incident, highlighting both the naïvety of a freshman player to throw into coverage along with a poor play call at an inopportune time, which Dantonio took responsibility for.
Replacing Cook in favor of Maxwell shakes the confidence of both players and leaves anyone watching scratching their heads. I know I’m still scratching mine.
After the game, Cook told members of the media he was “a little disappointed” with the decision, unsure of why the coaching staff decided not to have faith in him at a critical moment of the game.
Well, I’m not sure why it happened either. And if this carries on en route to another subpar season in East Lansing, Dantonio only will have himself to blame.
Dillon Davis is a State News football reporter. Reach him at email@example.com.