Quarterback Keith Nichol's performance not up to expectation
Many Spartans fans had been screaming for it since he transferred from Oklahoma almost two years ago.
Give sophomore quarterback Keith Nichol a chance.
He had been used in every game this season while fellow sophomore Kirk Cousins took the majority of snaps before Saturday. But with Cousins on the sideline nursing an injured ankle, Nichol got his chance, starting his first career game and taking almost every offensive snap.
“I’ve never really felt what it’s like to be in there all (of the) snaps,” he said. “It’s a good feeling to be in there all four quarters and lead the team to a win.”
Without looking over his shoulder and having to worry about being pulled from the game, Nichol’s performance was surprisingly underwhelming.
He went 13-for-25 passing for 179 yards with one interception against a struggling Illinois defense.
On his first pass, he overthrew wide open sophomore tight end Brian Linthicum, but that can be chalked up to nerves.
Although Nichol’s numbers weren’t bad, he was off the mark on a number of passes, and the interception he threw into double coverage was a mistake.
His much-talked-about athletic ability had flashes, as he was able to get out of a pressured pocket several times and rush for 27 yards on six carries.
Overall, Nichol didn’t play poorly and the Spartans came out with a victory. But they didn’t score offensive points in the second half and the offense looked flat.
As the game wound down, it appeared Cousins should remain the guy to take the majority of the snaps for the rest of the season, but that decision might already have been made for head coach Mark Dantonio.
Late in the game, Nichol fell on his left arm and dislocated his elbow. Although it is his nonthrowing arm and Nichol said he would be fine, it appears Cousins should be the guy taking most of the snaps against Northwestern this week. That is, of course, unless Cousins’ ankle still is bothering him, in which case the Spartans could be in trouble.
I’m not saying Nichol should be benched, by any means. He still is a very talented quarterback and brings some things to the game that Cousins doesn’t. But the coaches have played Cousins most of the year with a few doses of Nichol and that plan should continue.
Just because Nichol hasn’t played spectacular football this year doesn’t mean he shouldn’t have seen the field in previous games, either. The experience Nichol gained in the earlier games proved to be crucial since Cousins was injured.
“We certainly needed him to play well today and he was great to have the experiences he had coming into the football game,” Dantonio said. “Obviously, there’s things we can all improve on, but I thought he had a solid football game and he quarterbacked our football team to a victory and did a nice job.”
Although Nichol didn’t take control of the quarterback battle or secure the starting spot for himself, the win against Illinois was a learning experience that will help Nichol and the Spartans improve in the future.
“These experiences that our players have are invaluable,” Dantonio said. “Whether it’s a quarterback or whether it’s a lineman, to start, to play 70 snaps, to get a win and know that win is credited to you and what you did, I think, is an enormous accomplishment for any player.”
Chris Vannini is a State News football reporter. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.