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Should MSU have turned to Connor Cook earlier this season?

TEMPE, Ariz. — At the midpoint of the season, even at the end of October, Andrew Maxwell seemed to be progressing as MSU’s quarterback.

By the end of Saturday night’s Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl, he was no longer MSU’s quarterback. Just one of four quarterbacks who will compete to be under center next season.

Maxwell’s November and December were an obvious regression. Parts of October were a struggle, too.

After going five games without an interception (after the opener), Maxwell threw six in the final six games.

And, after completing a modest 56 percent his passes through nine games, he connected on just 43 percent in the Spartans’ final three games, even as MSU’s receivers improved and tight end Dion Sims regained his health.

One has to wonder if close November losses to Nebraska and Northwestern would have turned out differently if redshirt freshman Connor Cook had been at QB?

Maybe Cook wasn’t ready. Perhaps his gunslinger mentality would have led to more turnovers and those gut-wrenching defeats would have been more one-sided.

What I do believe to know is this: MSU’s offense under Maxwell never got any better. It floundered in first halves on a weekly basis and then sometimes pulled out a drive or two late. In essence, we all watched the same game over and over, a “Groundhog Day” of sorts.

MSU had the defense, the running back and, for part of the year, a big-time tight end. And it finished the regular season 6-6. And would have been 6-7 had it stuck with its quarterback.

I like Andrew Maxwell. Think a lot of him for how he treats people and handles difficult situations and that he’s dorky enough to admit “We Bought a Zoo” is his favorite movie.

[RELATED: Benched QB Maxwell does his best to hide the hurt]

Early on this season, I thought he made good decisions on the field, too.

But this is big-boy football. Ultimately, as much as anything, it’s about producing and winning. And Maxwell wasn’t doing that much late in the season.

I wonder if Cook hadn’t thrown that pick-six in mop-up duty to ruin the shutout against Central Michigan, if he would have been given a chance earlier?

And I wonder what was so different about this Saturday than several others that finally prompted MSU’s coaches to pull the plug on Maxwell?

It’ll be an interesting next eight months following the quarterback situation. It’s impossible to know who will be starting next year’s opener. My sense is it’s not Maxwell. He was given his shot and, Saturday, MSU finally moved on.

He’ll have his chances this spring, but unless he looks decidedly better, his 13-game resume says too much.

Do you think MSU should have gone with Cook earlier? Who do you see as the Spartans starting QB next season?

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32 Responses to Should MSU have turned to Connor Cook earlier this season?

  1. avatar MLM89 says:

    Should be an open competition between Maxwell, Cook and O’Connor. It will be interesting to see if the possibility of Cook or O’Connor unseating Maxwell will impact Damion Terry’s signing. It’s one thing to sit your freshman year while a senior is playing, it’s another to sign on where the starting QB will have sophomore eligibility.

    • avatar Spartanhammer says:

      Terry by all accounts is a rock solid commit.
      Expect him to red-shirt. Our QB’s going back to Smoker (who did start early) have sat for two or three years prior to starting. You would have figured Terry would be the next next likely QB. Now you have to wonder if he is as good as he looks (and with being a dual threat guy ) does he have a chance at starting early in his career. Like right off the bat.

  2. avatar AtlSpartan says:

    Based on what I saw here in Tempe last night the answer would be yes. However Cook looked all but inept in the spring game and looked the same with that CMU pick 6.

    It is certainly a mystery as to why Maxwell hasn’t performed better. An elite 11 highly recruited QB that is bigger, faster, and has a stronger arm than Cousins. He has been in the system for 4 years? Nothing makes sense. He should be much better? Hard to figure.

    • avatar Ben Green says:

      I totally agree, Atl. Happily the coaches realized a change was worth the risk, made it early, liked what they saw, and put Cook in at the most critical time in the most important game of the season. As to the failure of Maxwell to progress…yes, hard to figure. I’m sure the coaches are as baffled.

  3. avatar SteveL says:

    Competition will determine who will be at the helm. I did like the poise and throwing strength of Cook. Who knows what would have happened if Cook was put in earlier in the season but we don’t know the internals. My hope is that MD learned that making changes is ok to try when what you have been going with isn’t working. That would apply to coaches as well as players.

  4. avatar MayoSpartan says:

    Watching two seasons of the MSU “Vertical Passing” game suggests that it doesn’t matter who’s playing QB. Both Maxwell & Cook struggled because that offense requires precise execution from every position; OL blocking , RB’s picking up blitzes, all receivers running exact routes and making acrobatic catches in tight coverage. The MSU offense appears to be mostly inflexible and predictable.

    Few first year starters could make it work with an inexperienced receiving group. Cook’s willingness to improvise by running may give him an edge, but both QB’s numbers stunk because the play calling never exploited TCU’s coverage scheme, or ND’s, or Nebraska’s.

    The OC controls the QB’s production and survival.

    • avatar Spartan 81 says:

      Please do not imply that the emperor has no clothes

      51 wins in six years exceeds 8 wins a year

      Res Ipsa
      IDIT

    • avatar Ben Green says:

      Good points, Mayo. The TV color commentator was suggesting plays the coaches didn’t employ, double hitches in particular. Plays to exploit TCU’s coverage.

  5. avatar msu76 says:

    I don’t like to call for the OC’s head, but after last night, I think a change is necessary. A fumbled punt, a pass by our star running back to a linebacker and a defensive holding call were our 3 best offensive plays! That was probably the ugliest game I’ve ever seen, including the 1982 team that went 2-9.

    As for QB, Maxwell seems like a good guy, but his ball always seems to float. He had a ton of drops, but the lack of zip on the ball seemed to let it hang up for the DBs too swat it or pick it off. I think it should be a wide open competition this spring and next fall.

    • avatar msu76 says:

      “to swat”, sorry!

      • avatar AASparty says:

        well, from what I’ve seen is that he tends to put too much pepper on the slant passes and quick-hitters, but his bigger problem was forcing balls into double/triple coverage, he was lucky to have thrown only 6 picks in the last 6 games…

  6. avatar Hammer says:

    While I agree, much of the responsibility lands on the shoulder of Maxwell (or any QB). Where is the discussion about dropped balls by receivers? How many games would be changed if we had a QB that would take off and run for a first down to extend a drive or the first downs we gave up because of dropped balls? Add those two together and might have changed half of those close games.
    Great to end up with a win! Defense is playing great.

    • avatar Ben Green says:

      I agree. Dantonio mentioned the need to change the offense several weeks ago, referring to a more mobile QB. Cook provided that. Hopefully it will be a focus next year. It’s disappointing MSU does not have wide outs capable of creating separation, and capable of consistently catching the ball.

      • avatar MSU Owns Denard says:

        Agree Ben, a lot of times Maxwell has absolutely no one to throw the ball too because the receivers are all covered.

  7. avatar Munnster says:

    This is reaction hunting & meaningless. LSJ should bench Couch, b/c his performance is truly awful. Lots of hot air, no content. And no content, b/c no access & no talent.

  8. avatar gm says:

    Column should be named fire Couch. Third rate sensationalist excuse for journalism. He wears maize and blue long johns btw…spewed the same garbage on mlive. Wont subscribe to lsj until he is relieved of his duties.

  9. avatar TBanger says:

    What are you in 5th grade, don’t like the articles don’t read it.

  10. avatar AtlSpartan says:

    We definitely have an offensive scheme issue. Teams seem to sit on the first down line, we throw underneath, and they tackle us short of the first down. I am fed up with a 4 yard completion on 3rd and 6.

    We need to have receivers blow by defenders and make some deeper throws. The receivers are seldom open, because the teams stack the box against Bell and sit on our short passing routes.

    We need changes/improvements in our offensive scheme. I hope we all see them next year.

    • avatar TBanger says:

      Agreed but we throw the short route because Maxwell decides to. He can throw the tight rope pass underneath but not the touch pass over the top with the timing.

  11. avatar jmac says:

    I think Cook would have made a difference earlier, however hindsight is 20/20.

    The deal is Maxwell has a much better overall skill set, but for whatever reason he just struggles to make plays. I campare this to a basketball player moving into the starting point guard position, it just does not always work. There are so many intangibles that go into leading on the field and leading an offense. Maxwell looked like he was trying to do too much at times, and it paralyzed him to make the simple plays.

    Do not underestimate the value of a quarterback that can extend plays with their feet, it looks like Cook can do this.

    It would be nice to get some breaks in the trenches going forward. I wonder what the season would have looked like with some injury luck on the oline. Losing Fonoti and Jackson was huge, and those two would have been worth a couple more wins.

  12. avatar jon hart says:

    7-6 record with five losses by total of thirteen points – Breaking in a new QB, all new receivers, and re-building offensive line with it’s injuries in 2012 – Offense will be much improved next year in 2013 with Maxwell the likely starting QB. I actually thought the Defense should’ve played better at times this season…

  13. avatar NJ Rob says:

    Good discussion/article Graham. Keep it up. LSJ is not a propoganda “see/support green or nothing” site. The team this year was flawed, and most of us struggled to see it along the way (beyond the obvious play calling and WR issues). Sometimes the tone of your articles does seem a bit anti-MSU (ie, too much for the sake of trying to carve out your own MSU-coverage niche), but there were good moments along the way too (more than Maxwell at QB on his first year as a starter).

    I have been a huge Maxwell fan all year, but now that we appear to have some good options, I would support giving somebody besides Maxwell a legit shot. Maxwell just doesn’t have the foot speed and ability to make a play on his own, which we desperately need. Our schedule next year sets up really well for 9-11 wins if we get better QB and WR play, plus can replace Bell.

    Graham, please write about next year’s tailback situation. Thx.

    • avatar Graham Couch says:

      Will do. I’ll get to that soon, probably this week. If not, certainly as soon as we hear Le’Veon Bell is leaving.

      • avatar gm says:

        A more professional journalistic response here would have been…” If not, certainly as soon as we hear what LeVeon Bell’s decision regarding turning pro will be.”

        Again, exhibit A on sensationalism, “as soon as we hear Bell is leaving”. Is that happening then for sure Graham? Why the hold out if you have the scoop? Just stirring up the pot as usual. Damn I miss Rexrode!

  14. avatar FireRoushar says:

    You can’t fault Maxwell for the performance of the offensive line and the inability of the receivers to get open. Maxwell has a great arm, a good leader, and very intelligent.

    Until the receivers can get open and the line can give some time, it doesn’t matter who is back there. I didn’t see anything that really shows Cook is any better. Burbridge made a great play on the TD.

    As for the OC, he should be demoted. His play calling is predictable and poor. He doesn’t stick with what works (Bell averaged what, 5 YPC and they barely used him in the first half?) and tries to do stupid trick plays. Fire Roushar.

  15. avatar Westside Spartan says:

    How much better would Maxwell have looked this year if he had B.J. Cunningham and Keshawn Martin to throw to vs. the receivers he had. I think at least 60% of his problems lie in the poor performance of this year’s receivers. A large improvement in their performance next year will make anyone we put it the QB position more successful.

  16. avatar dmbtierney says:

    Yes, Maxwell had some problems this season. However, as great as out defense played the entire season, they contributed to some of our losses with missed plays late in games. Johnny Adams missed tackle vs. Ohio State, one missed tackle anywhere in the Nebraska game, and the blown coverage late vs. Northwestern. In reality, we were only FIVE plays from being an 11-1 team at the end of the regular season. Major adjustments are not needed, just better execution next season and with the easier schedule we could easily be an 11-1 team again.

    • avatar MSU Owns Denard says:

      Agree with you guys, it wasn’t all Maxwell’s fault, but damn he made some bad decisions too, and that might be from the receiver’s not getting open and the o-line not protecting as well as they should, although injuries were a big part of that.

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