Former Michigan State quarterback Connor Cook is the winningest signal caller in school history. The Ohioan wrapped up his career with a school-record 9,194 passing yards, with 71 touchdowns and 22 interceptions,
He captured two Big Ten championships (2013, 2015), the 100th Rose Bowl Game over Stanford (2014), and the Cotton Bowl over Baylor (2015). Cook was a two time B1G Championship MVP and Rose Bowl MVP. He also took home the Johnny Unitas Golden Arm award and guided the Spartans to the program’s debut of the College Football Playoff in 2015.
Cook is not just arguably one of the greatest quarterbacks in Michigan State football history, but also one of the most decorated athletes to ever wear green and white. His accomplishments are simply remarkable.
But personal achievements aren’t everything. After watching current quarterback Tyler O’Connor’s progress from the 2016 annual Green and White spring game to the Notre Dame showdown last weekend, it occurred to me that O’Connor should and will navigate his offense above and beyond Cook’s offenses.
From an individual standpoint, O’Connor may not possess the same skillset as Cook, but his small sample size suggests that he is more efficient and less turnover-prone. Let the numbers speak for itself, as the decisive quarterback has completed 73 percent of his passes for 431 yards with five touchdowns and two interceptions thus far. His stats compile up to result a 183.4 quarterback rating.
“I am in my senior year, and I will go into it with nothing to lose and that it is my job,” O’Connor said at MSU Media Day. “My knowledge of the game is very high, not just around here but around the country.”
On the other hand, Cook did not reach the 60 percent completion mark in any of his three starting seasons. His completion percentage actually declined 2.5 percent from his sophomore year to his senior year.
Similar to Cook, O’Connor delivers big time performances on the big stage. He notched two historic road wins against Ohio State (2015) and Notre Dame, tossing for 241 yards with a pair of scores in a 36-28 victory over the Irish last Saturday. O’Connor showed his resiliency as well by converting two must-have third down conversions late in the fourth quarter to ice it for the Spartans.
The fifth-year senior’s main attraction is his leadership and mobility. He’s making a profound impact both on and off the field, mainly with these two appealing qualities.
“Tyler is a good leader. He always has been,” coach Mark Dantonio said at MSU Media Day.
O’Connor was elected captain this season and rallies the troops as well as any of the MSU head honchos. He makes the players around him better because of his pure leadership skills. O’Connor and the rest of the Spartan leaders do a great job of getting everyone to buy into the system.
[su_pullquote]”We really look at it as competitions against ourselves though and not against each other.” –Tyler O’Connor[/su_pullquote]
The perfect example is the supporting cast that O’Connor has to work with right now. Not only are they talented, but they each believe in each other’s playmaking ability. He has two workhorses at running back in LJ Scott and Gerald Holmes. The senior trio of R.J. Shelton, Josiah Price and Monty Madaris are effectively contributing in the passing attack, while Kodi Kieler and Brian Allen lead the way for an offensive line that has protected O’Connor with every ounce of energy and determination.
What do they all have in common? They have soaring confidence, as each member strives to push further for improvement on a day-by-day basis. The players have a competitive mentality to exceed their own expectations rather than their teammates.
“We really look at it as competitions against ourselves though and not against each other,” O’Connor said at MSU Media Day. “We view it as getting better than you were the day before, which is how we say it in our room. That is our main focus.”
O’Connor is also very elusive, especially for a pocket passer, as he finds success running the option but also deserting the pocket when things collapse. He racked up several modest gains off of quarterback scrambles against the Irish, racking up 43 rushing yards.
The biggest thing that goes unnoticed is O’Connor’s positivity. Regardless of the outcome or his own performance, he’s able to remain upbeat and optimistic, which is very contagious for any ball club.
“You’ve got to be positive with them and really talk to them about situations,” O’Connor said following the 2016 Spring game. “It’s all about helping them understand everything that’s going on.”
O’Connor was able to accomplish some things that the legend Cook did not, like becoming a captain on the team while defeating Notre Dame and Ohio State on their turf. He also has the upper hand with his solid judgement and decision making while sliding into the role of a multi-dimensional quarterback who can hurt defenses with both his arm and his legs.
[su_pullquote align=”right”]“[Tyler]’s a hard-working guy. He’s done a nice job with the press. Our players have respect for him.” –Mark Dantonio[/su_pullquote]
It just goes to show that an individual shattering records and fulfilling all his lofty goals are minor factors when it comes to measuring teamwork, chemistry and defining their overall character.
“He’s a hard-working guy. He’s done a nice job with the press. Our players have respect for him,” Dantonio said at MSU Media Day. “He’s got toughness, can run with the football. He’s a big, physical guy. I think he’s got a bright future for us.”
Let’s give major props to Cook for preparing O’Connor for the spotlight. O’Connor shadowed Cook for three years, helping him enhance his technique, footwork and the fundamentals of football thanks to the teachings of Cook.
O’Connor is showing a ton of promise and potential so far. I have never seen such a dominant display when the Spartans established a massive 36-0 scoring run against Notre Dame that lasted a quarter and a half.
With O’Connor at the helm, he is steering his unit in the right direction towards a juggernaut-type offense.