Spartans need to take risk at quarterback

With experienced quarterbacks not establishing themselves, the window is open for Tyler O'Connor and Damion Terry -- and for Mark Dantonio to make a high risk, high reward move.

One of the most defining characteristics of Mark Dantonio's tenure at Michigan State is knowing when to call for the right trick play at the most opportune time.

From Little Giants to Mousetrap to plays without nicknames, the Spartans seventh-year head coach understands when to take a calculated risk.

While those plays had varying degrees of risk and reward, Dantonio and the Spartans now are faced with a very high risk, high reward scenario: Giving serious playing time to an inexperienced quarterback.

In the search for a playmaker at QB, redshirt freshman Tyler O'Connor and freshman Damion Terry have made strong cases to be the guy for MSU.

In closed scrimmages, both have impressed and seem to have proven themselves as viable candidates. But their emergence in the quarterback competition also speaks to something else. The reality is that neither Andrew Maxwell nor Connor Cook has proven themselves as playmakers at this juncture of fall camp. If they had, O'Connor and Terry wouldn't be in the conversation.

When asked if Maxwell has lost ground in camp, quarterbacks coach Brad Salem said he didn't think so and that the senior brings "steadiness."

"You still see the steadiness of what he does offensively," Salem said. "He knows it in and out. He just gets you out of the thing and puts you in something you like better as a coach, things that you can't control on the field. He's had a steadiness in that."

That's good and well, but in his previous answer to which is more important between good decisions and a playmaker, Salem said this: "I'd say both. Maybe earlier you're thinking, I want a guy that can get in there and get us in the right stuff and out of the right stuff, but you've gotta have the ability to move the offense. That's really it.

"It all comes down to you, whether guys are catching it or running it or dropping it or penalties, if you don't move it as a quarterback, it's still on your shoulders and how you carry yourself in the huddle, the tempo, how you demand things from other people on the offense, that goes on the shoulders of the quarterback."

That sounds a lot like Salem is describing last season's offense, whether he named Maxwell or not. Because neither Maxwell nor Cook has emerged, the pair of young QBs is in the mix.

The quarterback situation boils down to a few factors: Creating plays with feet, making good decisions (execution) and consistency. Combine those attributes and it results in good game management and moving the ball down the field – or as Salem said, "just giving us a chance as a football team."

Does O'Connor or Terry give the Spartans the best chance as a football team?

Ways Terry's game was described after Saturday's scrimmage: makes plays, mobile, athletic, accurate, commands the huddle. The disclaimer: Need for consistency, freshman, learning offense.

Ways O'Connor's game was described after the first scrimmage: makes plays, strong arm, running ability, quick off the jump. The disclaimer: Consistency, redshirt freshman mistakes.

Now, those lists aren't exhaustive nor conclusive, but both bring high praise. At the least, they indicate the abilities that Dantonio wants to see are there.

"The name of the game - and I've said this over and over again - is you've got to create at quarterback," Dantonio said after Terry's scrimmage performance Saturday.

If the emphasis is on creativity, it appears from a pair of fall scrimmages that the quarterbacks that give Michigan State a chance to win games this season could have a combined zero college snaps between them.

Realistically, the Spartans are lined up to move to a mobile quarterback. The recruiting has been focused on quarterbacks that can run as well as pass. That's the trend in college football and Michigan State is making the changes. Bringing in Jim Bollman was a move to change the dynamics of the offense.

With an elite defense that just needs a few more points per game, improved and experience offensive line and wide receivers groups, the window is open for a risk to be taken.

If the talent and creative ability is strong enough, the move to a mobile, athletic – and young – quarterback is teed up.

It might be time for Dantonio and the Spartans to take another gamble.

High risk, high reward.

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