Going into last Saturday’s game against the #3 Ohio State Buckeyes, the Michigan State Spartans were given little to no chance of winning, regardless of who you asked. Considering that both teams have played with fire all season long, the Spartans did not have star senior quarterback Connor Cook playing in the game, and everyone had been waiting for the Buckeyes to break out of their funk and look like the team that rolled the final three games of last season, Michigan State was already dead in the water before kickoff.
Let’s not forget that for a good portion of the game, the weather conditions resembled that of a monsoon in the high 30’s.
But the Spartans managed to pull off the improbable and pull off the shocker in Columbus (shocking at least to everyone outside of that MSU locker room), with the use of a pair of quarterbacks to fill the void left by Cook – junior Tyler O’Connor and redshirt sophomore Damion Terry.
O’Connor got the starting nod when it was announced that Cook would be sidelined with a shoulder injury he suffered two weekends ago vs. Maryland. In his first three seasons, he only made appearances in games when either the Spartans were winning comfortably and the coaches rested the starters, or when Cook would get knocked out for a play or two after taking a big hit. On Saturday vs. Ohio State, O’Connor converted on seven of twelve pass attempts for 82 yards, including a beautiful back-shoulder dart for a 12-yard touchdown. In eleven games over his first three seasons, he is 34 of 53 for 374 yards with four touchdowns and two picks.
Terry has been the preferred favorite by fans to take over the starting role after Cook graduates and declares for the NFL. He adds an element of running to his skills, something the Michigan State quarterback factory has not seen in years. The redshirt sophomore has actually played at least a down in two more games and in one less season than O’Connor. He’s only 14 of 26 for 103 yards in his first two seasons, but he’s also rushed it 32 times for 116 yards when put in the Wildcat formation. On Saturday, Terry only made one completion for two yards but he ran it himself eight times for 25 yards. He has yet to find the end zone in his 13 games played.
All three Spartan quarterbacks are around the same body build. Both O’Connor and Terry are listed at 6-foot-3, Cook being an inch taller. All three weigh roughly between 220-230 pounds.
The atmosphere in the Horseshoe, the not-so-favorable weather, and assuming the role of perpetual underdogs as they’ve come accustomed to, all gave Michigan State fans and coaches a first real glimpse of the quarterback competition post-Cook. And having now performed as a tandem for the last six quarters MSU has played, they may get more time to audition starting next Saturday in their final game of the regular season.
Based on the team’s recent play on both sides of the ball – a healthy offensive line and an improved defense – and the Spartans level of confidence now being in the driver’s seat to win the East division and possibly the Big Ten conference, O’Connor and Terry are put in a position where there is a perfect balance of stress of comfort level. Having them in high-pressure situations throughout the course of a game against another quality opponent in Penn State will be extremely beneficial to both quarterbacks.
Connor Cook has become one of the most statistically impressive and winningest quarterbacks in the school’s history, now having won 32 of his 36 career starts and is a remarkable 21-2 vs. Big Ten opponents. He also has a potentially bright future in the NFL after he departs from East Lansing. There is not a whole lot more he needs to prove to the Spartans’ faithful.
Would the coaches love to have Cook under center down the stretch? Absolutely. But after seeing how well O’Connor and Terry performed in Columbus on Saturday, there is no immediate rush for him to return.
Cook is still a bit questionable going into the team’s final game at home vs. Penn State. The zip on his throws during pregame warm-ups was absent, which is why Spartans head coach Mark Dantonio elected to sit him. If Cook is not 100% healthy and there is any chance he could aggravate his shoulder injury, then Dantonio should use the O’Connor-Terry combination once more until they give him a reason to put Cook back in.