EAST LANSING, Mich. – Mark Dantonio didn’t want a quarterback controversy but that’s exactly what the Michigan State coach has on his hands.
The Spartans lost their third consecutive game Saturday, this time falling to Brigham Young 31-14 at Spartan Stadium. Junior Damion Terry replaced senior Tyler O’Connor in the fourth quarter. It wasn’t so much that O’Connor was playing poorly but he certainly wasn’t lifting the play of those around him either. Quarterbacks have to make their teammates better. O’Connor wasn’t able to bring that out of the rest of the offense.
Dantonio had no choice but to make the switch with Michigan State trailing 17-7. Now he has to make a choice on who his starter will be next Saturday when Northwestern comes to Spartan Stadium for homecoming.
“Bottom line is production,” Dantonio said. “At some point in time you have to be productive. If you’re not productive and you have seven points on the board, then you have to make a change for the sake of change. I didn’t think (O’Connor) was playing that badly. I really don’t. But, you can’t take the sacks. We have a good guy that can get out of there in that case.”
O’Connor was 7-of-11 passing for 58 yards. Six of those completions came on Michigan State’s first possession of the game, a 15-play, 72-yard touchdown drive that gave the crowd of 74,214 the sense that maybe, just maybe, this would be the day the Spartans right all of the wrongs plaguing them the last two weeks in losses to Wisconsin and Indiana.
Things didn’t change. Things only got worse. The next five drives with O’Connor in the game resulted in 18 plays for 31 yards.
Dantonio, offensive coordinator Dave Warner and quarterbacks coach Brad Salem talked things over. Dantonio decided to switch quarterbacks.
“They said something needed to be changed, we needed a spark,” O’Connor said. “At that point to get a spark that’s probably the easiest way to do it, to switch out the quarterback position. It’s their decision.
“I’ve been for this team the whole time I’ve been here so whatever they do I’ll have their back on it and roll with it. I’m going to give my all and give everything I can for this team.”
In came Terry, a prized recruit who has played little in his previous two seasons. His job was to provide some sort of spark. Terry flickered. The offense picked up a pair of first downs but then Terry got a little greedy looking for R.J. Shelton down the left side. BYU corner Michael Davis picked off the pass and returned it to the Michigan State 32. The Cougars needed just three plays to make it 24-7.
“I threw it up. I thought I had R.J.,” Terry said.
The spark stayed lit on the next drive, which Terry capped off with a 1-yard touchdown run. By that time, however, BYU was in full prevent defense mode. Still, Terry did enough to warrant serious consideration to become the starter against Northwestern. He completed 6 of 10 passes for 63 yards, including a 28-yard connection with Felton Davis III.
“I definitely think that when I went in there and we did the 2-minute offense it put the defense on its heels,” Terry said. “You saw a defensive breakdown on Felton. Eventually I found him. It’s stuff like that. It’s real fun going out there, quick to the line and defenses don’t know what’s going on. I’d like to think I gave us a little spark but we still need to get the W.”
Dantonio didn’t want a quarterback controversy. He wanted O’Connor, who had won the job in preseason camp and done enough to keep it the first five games, to continue playing well enough to keep it. That’s no longer the case.
Dantonio has a decision to make. The fact that his team is now 2-3 and struggling in nearly every aspect of the game has to figure into his call. O’Connor might not be playing awful but neither is he playing great. It’s a decision Dantonio wasn’t ready to make Saturday night as he spoke in the bowels of Spartan Stadium.
“We evaluate things,” Dantonio. “We have to evaluate exactly who did what and we have to evaluate practice.”
Kevin Goheen covers Michigan State for Landof10.com. Follow him on Twitter at @CincyGoGo