Opinion: MSU Quarterback Race is Less Important Than You Think

Michigan State’s quarterback position battle was originally fought and won by Tyler O’Connor in the offseason. Most people thought that MSU’s quarterback controversy ended there. This could not have been farther from the truth.

Half of MSU’s games this season ended with a different quarterback on the field than the one who started. While it is important that the Spartans have a quality man under center, this is by no means their biggest problem.

Last week’s Northwestern loss marked Mark Dantonio’s first four-game losing streak as his tenure as MSU’s coach. When asked what was one thing in particular that was giving him struggles as of late, his response was, “Just one?”

This was a simple response from Dantonio, but it does sum up what is wrong with the Spartans. It is not one thing, it is everything.

Most of the nation focuses on the Spartans’ quarterback controversy, but Michigan State was never meant to be a passing team. In the offseason, the Spartans lost their winningest quarterback in program history in Connor Cook along with stellar wideout Aaron Burbridge plus Macgarrett Kings, DeAnthony Arnett, and Paul Lang. But they retained three talented running backs in Gerald Holmes, Madre London and LJ Scott. Each of whom are good enough to start at the vast majority of FBS schools.

Even with consistent quarterback play, the Spartans would not have the tools to out-pass many of their opponents. MSU is built to be a run-first team. Yet they have been out-rushed three of their past four games. In each of their past two games, MSU has failed to reach 100 total rushing yards, while giving up over 200 yards to their opponents.

The Spartans have also struggled defensively. Ever since the season opener, it was evident that MSU has no pass rush. Their defensive line has lost numerous players including Shilique Calhoun, Joel Heath and Lawrence Thomas, who all graduated last year.

In addition to this, the line lost Craig Evans and Montez Sweat, who were dismissed from the team this past offseason along with Damon Knox who left the team to pursue a law career. With these losses, the Spartans have great difficulty generating any push from their front lines, even with numerous blitzes.

But even if the MSU defense gains penetration, they often blow their opportunities to make big plays by missing tackles. They have no ability to wrap up ball carriers. Even the most dominant part of MSU’s defense, the linebackers, are struggling to tackle due to injuries.

Poor secondary play has also been an issue. MSU safeties Montae Nicholson and Demetrius Cox struggle defending the deep ball, just as they did last year. Cornerbacks Darian Hicks and Vayante Copeland have also underachieved as shown by their minutes yielding way for younger players including Justin Layne, Josh Butler and Tyson Smith.

There is nothing more the Spartans could use going into Maryland this Saturday than strong leadership. Do they have the leaders to turn this season around? Ideally, the Spartans should be directed by captains Tyler O’Connor, Demetrius Cox and Riley Bullough. But how is this working out?

O’Connor consistently gets benched, Cox is having a rough season and headlines one of the worst sections on MSU’s roster and Bullough just recently returned from a nagging injury, where he led a defense that gave up 54 points at home against Northwestern. It appears likely that the Spartans are suffering from lack of leadership.

It would be foolish to blame all of the Spartans’ struggles on the players. After all, the coaching staff has not been lights out either. The Spartan defense has regressed each year since the loss of defensive coordinator Pat Narduzzi. Co-offensive coordinator Dave Warner has found success in the past, but only with NFL caliber quarterbacks such as Connor Cook or Kirk Cousins. With average quarterbacks, he has done nothing.

MSU has success early in games. In fact, they were the first team to strike in each of their four losses. But as each game progressed, MSU got weaker. This is partly due to lack of senior leadership who should push the team to always be their best.

But it is also on the coaching staff. With the exception of switching quarterbacks, Dantonio and company have rarely made in-game changes on play-calling and matchups. Nick Saban once called Dantonio “stubborn” in this regard while BYU claimed that they saw nothing they did not expect from Michigan State.

In short, there are a countless number of things are wrong with Michigan State. The quarterback situation should be the least of worries for Spartan fans because this year’s squad was never meant to be carried by a strong passing game. They were supposed to rely on a solid ground attack backed by a hard-nosed defense.

The MSU quarterback race is almost irrelevant at this point. It hardly matters whether it is O’Connor, Lewerke or Terry starting because unless they fix about a thousand things first, the Spartans will continue to lose games.