EAST LANSING, Mich. — If anything, Tyler O’Connor may have been fortunate.
He probably should have had more than three interceptions. Early in the fourth quarter, with Michigan State’s 30-6 loss to Wisconsin already decided, the Spartans’ senior quarterback threw a poor ball to Badgers linebacker Leon Jacobs.
Fortunately for O’Connor, the pass slipped through Jacobs’ grasp, off his shoulder, and into the chest of MSU receiver Jamal Lyles, who secured it while attempting to tackle Jacobs … who he thought had picked it off.
MSU caught a pass while trying to make a tackle. https://t.co/jLAC2SXryF
— Chris Vannini (@ChrisVannini) September 24, 2016
It was one of many inaccurate throws made by O’Connor on Saturday, but probably the only lucky one. The rest ended either on the turf or in the hands of a defender, leading to arms raised in frustration by his intended receivers. O’Connor completed 18 of 38 passes for 224 yards and three interceptions.
O’Connor readily took the blame when asked for an assessment of the game. He even pointed out particular plays on which he knows he made a bad read, namely an interception in the red zone when freshman wideout Donnie Corley stood uncovered in the end zone.
“Obviously, it wasn’t good enough,” O’Connor said. “I made some poor decisions in some critical parts of the game. But, at the same time, give credit to Wisconsin. I thought they put together a really good game plan. They threw some blitzes at us that maybe we weren’t ready for. Also, it’s on me to get the ball out in time and put the ball in a good spot and not make a bad play worse for us.”
Michigan State’s win against Notre Dame the week before had featured underthrown, dangerous passes from O’Connor. But he was able to manage the game and stay mainly mistake-free because of a lack of pressure from the Fighting Irish, one of two sackless FBS teams going into this weekend.
He did not have that comfort in the pocket Saturday. Wisconsin blitzed far more than Notre Dame while the Spartans did not protect as well. The result: seven quarterback hurries and four sacks leveled upon O’Connor.
“I’ve never really seen that type of pressure coming at me,” said O’Connor, who had never been sacked more than twice in three previous college starts. “There’s a lot to learn from. There’s a lot of opportunities, I think, that I’ll see where we can maybe get us into some different plays or different protections. We did a better job of picking up protections in the second half, but there’s always a soft spot when they bring people like that, and it’s my job to find it.”
Coach Mark Dantonio gave a few snaps to redshirt freshman Brian Lewerke near the end of the game (second-stringer Damion Terry was injured), but he also indicated that he didn’t feel O’Connor needed to be pulled based on performance.
A common thread in post-game comments was that this was a team loss. O’Connor had a day to forget, but his teammates did not seem to feel they were in a position to throw stones.
“Every quarterback has their ups and downs,” receiver R.J. Shelton said. “We still believe in Tyler. It’s nothing to where he should be down on himself. It’s a learning curve, and everyone learns.”