BLOOMINGTON, Ind. – Tyler O’Connor couldn’t wait to get back under center and take his next snap this week. The Michigan State senior wanted to put everything associated with last Saturday and the 30-6 loss against Wisconsin behind him. Completing less than 50 percent of your passes and throwing three interceptions, while not leading any touchdown drives, can do that to quarterbacks.
O’Connor was much better Saturday night against Indiana, throwing three touchdown passes without a turnover in a 24-21 overtime loss to the Hoosiers.
If anyone wants to ask coach Mark Dantonio if O’Connor is still the best man on the Spartans’ roster for the job, don’t count on getting another answer.
“Based on what I see, he is,” Dantonio said. “You watch the film and make decisions based on that. But I would say so.”
There was clamoring in some social media circles and questions in others whether O’Connor was up to the task of leading the offense.
Two second-half touchdown drives show that he is.
The first came after Indiana kicker Griffin Oakes missed a 40-yard field goal in the middle of the third quarter. O’Connor completed three straight passes to three different receivers to begin Michigan State’s ensuing drive. Three straight run plays got the Spartans to the Indiana 24-yard line. On play seven, the shotgun snap and the path of wide receiver R.J. Shelton, who was in motion, nearly intersected. O’Connor maintained focus on the ball, grabbed it and juked to his right to avoid an oncoming Hoosier defensive lineman.
O’Connor then calmly flipped the ball to a wide open Delton Williams for a touchdown and a 14-0 lead.
The second came with 4:38 left in regulation. Indiana had rallied to lead 21-14. Michigan State and O’Connor took possession at their own 25.
“We had no doubt,” O’Connor said. “Obviously it sucks to look up and see you’re down seven points with four minutes left, but we had no doubt as an offense. They didn’t stop us defensively.”
O’Connor again began with three straight completions. The offense smartly moved the ball into the red zone and then down to the Indiana 5 as the clock worked its way under 1:00. Gerald Holmes was initially ruled to have scored on a 5-yard run with 54 seconds left, but replay overturned the call. Officials ruled Holmes’ knee hit the turf with the ball still one half of a yard away from the goal line.
Holmes was dropped for a 1-yard loss on third down. Faced with fourth down at th 2 with 17 seconds left, Michigan State took its final timeout.
There was no panic in O’Connor. When the Indiana defense sold out to stop another running play, O’Connor instead kept the ball and tossed it gently to tight end Josiah Price.
O’Connor finished the game completing 21 of 35 passes for 263 yards. Inside those numbers, he showed plenty of guile and resolve, though he was sacked twice.
“It’s tough to say until you watch the film but I thought he played pretty well,” Dantonio said. “You can’t take sacks. You don’t really know what happened on that in terms of if did he hold the ball too long or what, but I thought he had some plays down the field that were right on the money that should have been caught. I thought I managed the game pretty effectively. You’re always going to want to have some plays back, but he made some plays too. He made some plays with his feet.”
That should quiet the clamoring and questions. For another week at least.
“Overall I thought it was decent,” O’Connor said of his performance. “We made good decisions with the ball, managed the game and everything. There’s a couple of throws you always want to take back but, for the most part, we did all right. It can be better.”
Kevin Goheen covers Michigan State for Landof10.com. Follow him on Twitter at @CincyGoGo