Andrew Maxwell will get the first chance to drive Michigan State’s offense this season, with three other quarterbacks waiting for their chance behind the wheel.
”I’m comfortable we have a No. 1 quarterback,” Spartans coach Mark Dantonio said Tuesday of Maxwell, a fifth-year senior. ”He was the No. 1 quarterback last year. And he gained some experience with that. He had some balls dropped, and we’ve got to protect him, run the football and do the things that surround him as well.
”But he has great knowledge of our system. I think he’s competitive. He has great leadership skill. And like I told him today, `Here’s the keys. Bring it back full.’ I think he’ll do that.”
Dantonio praised all four candidates for the job, including three more mobile alternatives: sophomore Connor Cook and freshmen Tyler O’Connor and Damion Terry. All are listed as first-team quarterbacks, with their names separated by ”or” on the depth chart for Friday night’s opener against Western Michigan.
Maxwell started all 13 games as a junior and completed 234 of 446 passes, 52.5 percent accuracy, for 2,606 yards and 13 touchdowns. He threw nine interceptions but just six in the last 25 halves of a disappointing 7-6 season.
Cook appeared in three games and was 9-for-17 for 94 yards with one TD and one interception. But he took over for a struggling Maxwell and led a drive for a game-winning field goal against TCU in the Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl.
O’Connor impressed the coaches last season on the scout team and made a serious challenge this year, while Terry dazzled in the team’s last full preseason scrimmage. He had 280 yards of total offense, including drives against what is again expected to be one of the nation’s top defenses.
”One thing I think people do need to recognize and all Spartans need to recognize is, as we go forward, it’s important that we all go forward together,” Dantonio said of often-debated subject over spicing up the offense. ”I guess I’m speaking to the masses out there, because things can be slanted one way or the other.”
Dantonio said Maxwell showed the consistency and decision-making that every No. 1 quarterback needs. The big concern was playmaking ability and explosiveness, an attribute that others offered as higher-risk options.
”When I look at our four quarterbacks, they possess big-time ability,” Dantonio said of the deepest team he has had entering his seventh season with the Spartans. ”They have great arm strength. They can make all the throws. But it’s the consistency you’re looking for.”
Speedy junior Jeremy Langford showed enough consistency and big-play potential and to earn the start at running back, though he will share the job with redshirt freshman Riley Bullough, a converted linebacker, and perhaps junior Nick Hill or freshman Delton Williams.
Fifth-year senior Kevin Muma earned the first opportunity to be Michigan State’s placekicker, edging heralded recruit Michael Geiger. The Spartans missed nine field goals last season and lost five Big Ten games by 13 points.