6 takes from MSU's defense-heavy win over USF
It was a new week but the same story in game two for the MSU football team, as the Spartans walked away with a 21-6 win against South Florida on Saturday. Once again, MSU’s defense was the highlight, scoring two touchdowns for the second straight week, while the offense continued to sputter. Connor Cook started at quarterback, but Andrew Maxwell and Tyler O’Connor also played. The trio remains in competition heading into game three against Youngstown State.
1. The quarterback conundrum continues. We’re through two games of the 2013 season and there still is no more clarity at the quarterback position than at the end of fall camp. Sophomore Connor Cook got the start on Saturday, and played decent, but he made enough questionable decisions to keep the position unsettled. Redshirt freshman Tyler O’Connor deserves a longer look from the coaching staff after just two drives against South Florida. Senior Andrew Maxwell’s role should become more defined in the coming weeks, but head coach Mark Dantonio said he primarily prepared Cook and O’Connor to play against the Bulls. MSU desperately needs someone to seize the job outright so the offense can grow together moving forward. We’re through two games and the Spartans haven’t passed for more than 100 yards in either one.
2. Junior Mike Sadler is this team’s MVP so far. That’s right, not sophomore defensive end Shilique Calhoun, despite his three defensive touchdowns on the season. It’s easy to go unnoticed as a punter, but Sadler is one of the best in the nation and he’s off to a great start in 2013. Because of MSU’s anemic offense, Sadler has gotten a lot of action early this season, and he’s pinned 10 of his 18 punts inside the opponents’ 20-yard line. If teams consistently have to drive 80 or 90 yards against this defense, MSU will be tough to beat despite whatever kind of circus wages on offensively.
3. Give Maxwell the reins or let him go. Heading into halftime with a 7-6 lead, Dantonio sent Maxwell in to start the second half because he reasoned he was the best passer to lead MSU out of the ditch. Maxwell only ended up playing one more series before being replaced by Cook. I think Dantonio has to decide to either put full faith in Maxwell or bury him very soon. As a senior, you can’t make Maxwell a lame duck if the coaching staff knows one of the younger quarterbacks gives them more potential for both this season and beyond. If the coaches decide Maxwell just can’t get the job done, then you have to bolt him to the bench and commit to grooming one of the other players for the future. It’s better to struggle in the present as a new passer learns than to limp through Maxwell’s senior season, only to endure the same growing pains a year from now.
1. The September Heisman might belong to MSU’s defense. Playing against Western Michigan, junior safety Kurtis Drummond and sophomore defensive end Shilique Calhoun stole the show with a pair of defensive touchdowns, making a few highlight plays in the process. But against South Florida, Calhoun decided he didn’t want to share. Calhoun scored twice against the Bulls and increased his season total of touchdowns to three, which is one more than MSU’s entire offense to this point. Look for more of the same against Youngstown State heading up to a major rivalry showdown against Notre Dame on Sept. 21.
2. No matter what common sense would dictate, head coach Mark Dantonio remains committed to Andrew Maxwell. Dantonio started sophomore Connor Cook on Saturday against USF while splitting time with redshirt freshman Tyler O’Connor. But, after a lackluster first half by Cook and O’Connor, Dantonio turned back to Maxwell to start the third quarter — a decision Dantonio said was because he believed Maxwell gave the Spartans “the best chance to put the ball down the field” based on his knowledge of the offense. However, Maxwell was not capable of much better and the keys were given back to Cook to finish the game. Now, I understand how well Maxwell is received among his coaches and teammates. But whether he’s a patron saint of smiles or the biggest jerk in the world, I think his time at quarterback is over. Loyalty is an admirable trait, but if the Spartans have Rose Bowl dreams, it’s probably time to look somewhere else.
3. Only three players in the nation have punted more times than junior Mike Sadler. And considering the company — Miami (Ohio), Virginia and Florida International, respectfully — the Spartans have some work to do. The Spartans are ranked 100th out of 123 NCAA Division I-A teams in total offensive yards and are 86th in total points per game. But keep in mind, MSU did that against Western Michigan and South Florida, which hardly constitutes a fair analysis of the offense’s ineptitude given both the Broncos and Bull are ranked behind MSU in the same categories. Although juniors running back Jeremy Langford and Nick Hill have provided a spark, the team doesn’t have a functional quarterback, the wide receivers have been inconsistent and Sadler has been on the field far too often. Something has to give before the Spartans face Notre Dame and then get into Big Ten play.