Tyler O'Connor trying to emerge as Connor Cook's successor
(AP) Tyler O’Connor has been keeping a list of goals in a spot near and dear to any 22-year-old’s heart.
“The background of my phone has been the goals that I’ve had for this spring,” the Michigan State quarterback said. “I do feel like I’ve accomplished those things, so I feel very good.”
O’Connor wrapped up spring practice Saturday, throwing for 138 yards and a touchdown in the Spartans’ spring game. His Green team lost 14-11 to the White team, but O’Connor put up the best passing numbers of any of the quarterbacks. With Michigan State needing to replace NFL-bound star Connor Cook, the spotlight will be on O’Connor as the season approaches.
And those goals? They’re about what you’d expect from somebody trying to become a starting quarterback.
“I wanted to be the man on offense. I wanted to be the man on the team. I wanted to be the guy that someone could come to on and off the field,” O’Connor said. “Be more consistent, be more accurate and then, obviously, school as well.”
Cook’s departure leaves Michigan State facing uncertainty at the quarterback position for the first time in a while, and that might be the biggest threat to the team’s run of recent success. The Spartans have won at least 11 games in five of the past six seasons. The one exception was a 7-6 mark in 2012 – and that was after they lost Kirk Cousins and before Cook established himself as the team’s top passer.
Michigan State will hope this next transition is smoother. O’Connor will be a fifth-year senior, and Damion Terry will be a redshirt junior. Those two both played in an upset win at Ohio State last year when Cook was injured, but the Spartans didn’t throw much in that game. More will be expected in 2016 from whoever is the No. 1 quarterback.
And coach Mark Dantonio doesn’t sound like he’s in any rush to announce whom that will be.
“I think everybody wants to hear the coach say, `He’s the quarterback,'” Dantonio said. “I’m not going to say `he’s the quarterback’ until we get in the game and we see the production from our quarterback position.”
Dantonio says he wants to avoid putting too much pressure on one player before anyone has proven he can produce.
“I want the pressure to be on the group of four. I want the pressure to be on our quarterback coach, and I want the pressure to remain there among all of them, for them to be consistent,” Dantonio said. “It comes down to decision making, creating, making plays, and leadership. Right now, Tyler I think has done a nice job with that. The other guys have too, but they’ve got to be consistent.”
In addition to O’Connor and Terry, Michigan State will also have redshirt freshman Brian Lewerke and freshman Messiah deWeaver in the mix.
In 2013, Michigan State fans were actually chanting for Terry as the Spartans sputtered under other quarterbacks early in the season. Terry was a newcomer at that point and ended up redshirting, and Cook eventually won over the crowd, leading Michigan State to a conference title and Rose Bowl victory.
Now Terry has a more realistic chance to try to win the job.
“I love it. It’s new for me. Freshman year, coming in here, it was kind of a competition, but I was so young,” he said. “But now, I know Connor left, so it’s like, someone has to step up, and I know Tyler’s been waiting and I’ve been waiting, so it’s just fun.”