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June 14, 2011
SPRING FOOTBALL WRAP-UP & SUMMER PROSPECTUS: THE QUARTERBACKS
The following story appears in the June issue of SPARTAN Magazine. This story is one of eight position-by-position reports. To purchase a digital version of the magazine, or to subscribe, go here.
QB Position Grows Stronger and Wiser
By Jim Comparoni
WHAT HAPPENED THIS SPRING: A position of strength grew stronger. Sophomore back-up QB Andrew Maxwell took important steps toward being ready to take over in an emergency. Maxwell was a promising prospect last fall, but was not pressed into duty until the Capital One Bowl, where he was promptly KO'd.
Maxwell impressed MSU's offensive and defensive coaches with his command and consistency this spring.
"His spring was tremendous," offensive line coach Mark Staten said of Maxwell. "He is a guy that you can trust, that you know will get in there and do the right things, make the right reads, throw the ball where it needs to go and we just need to give him time. We feel really good about where the quarterback position is on this team with Kirk and Andrew, and a good one coming up in this class as well; we think Connor Cook is going to be excellent for us. We are in good hands there."
Maxwell was terrific in the first two Jersey Scrimmages. He was 15-of-26 for 118 yards with 0 TDs and 1 INT in the first scrimmage, despite the defense being well ahead of the offense at that stage of the spring, especially up front. In the second scrimmage, Maxwell was 21-of-27 for 253 yards with 2 TDs in helping the offense win the green jerseys.
Maxwell (6-3, 208, Soph., Midland) wasn't as effective in the Green-White Game, going 9-of-21 for 120 yards with 1 TD.
"He has been in the system now for two years and you have seen him be able to grow," head coach Mark Dantonio said of Maxwell. "He has complete command of our offense and can do a lot of things very, very well and has game experience. We have three quarterbacks with game experience, very good quarterbacks, guys who have shown that they can win for us. Those are positive things."
The third QB Dantonio was referring to is senior WR Keith Nichol.
"Keith Nichol needs to be a guy that can play as a third quarterback," Dantonio said. "He is a great wide receiver. You saw him make some great catches again in the spring game but he also has to take some reps at quarterback along the way so that he can be a guy if we need a guy at that position."
Kirk Cousins (6-3, 202, Sr., Holland, Mich.) didn't put up great numbers in the first two Jersey Scrimmages. But he was excellent in his final Green-White Game.
Cousins was 6-of-16 for 41 yards with 0 TDs and 1 INT in the first scrimmage, and 14-of-23 for 140 yards 3 INTs in the second scrimmage (he described each interception in the May issue of SPARTAN Magazine).
He bounced back by going 22-of-29 for 285 yards with 3 TDs and 0 INTs in the Green-White Game.
Perhaps the best compliment that can be given to Cousins this spring is the fact that it wasn't news that he played so well in the Green-White Game. In past years, a performance like his would have set off a wave of positive reaction from MSU fans. With Cousins, it's come to be expected. He delivered nicely in the Green-White Game, which has become as realistic a spring dress rehearsal as can be found anywhere in the college football nation.
WHAT REALLY HAPPENED:
1. Cousins expanded on his already-impressive leadership role and skills. He said he set out to lend more of a hand than usual to help bring along the development of young players such as WR Bennie Fowler, RB Nick Hill while also serving as the loudest and happiest proponent of Dion Sims' return. He also tried to be instrumental with support and, at times, constructive criticism for young offensive linemen taking on new roles.
"I'm trying to help develop young players because I'm going to lean on them and a quarterback is only as good as the guys around them so if I'm not focused on developing our offensive line, developing our receivers, developing our running backs then I'm not going to have success," Cousins said. "So I have to put the focus a lot of times on other guys."
2. Maxwell acknowledged that having tall defensive ends such as William Gholston and Tyler Hoover in his line of vision in the spring game had an impact on him. He rarely went against those two when going against the No. 2 defense in the Jersey Scrimmages. Maxwell enjoyed good performances in the Jersey Scrimmages, but getting knocked back down to Earth on the last practice of the spring is probably a good thing for him to become properly obsessed with problem solving, working out and watching film in the off-season.
The good news is that he avoided the big mistake in the Green-White Game, even when quarterbacking a team that was in comeback mode most of the day. Maxwell threw a bad interception in the first Jersey Scrimmage, but remained pretty clean in that area the rest of the spring.
Maxwell on that lone INT from the first scrimmage: "I threw an interception in the red zone. Turnovers anywhere are going to hurt you, but especially in the red zone. It just can't happen. Inexcusable. We had a 17-play driving leading up to it. We started on the 3-yard line. We had all the momentum in the world and then I thought they blitzed one more than they did, so I thought it was a 'hot,' so that's why I got it out quicker than I needed to. So that's something that I would like to have back."
Middle linebacker TyQuan Hammock intercepted that pass.
"And I rushed a couple of throws, had a couple of bad reads," Maxwell said. "But it was the first scrimmage, so you go back, watch the film re-evaluate, you practice and you learn."
3. Maxwell had a great learning opportunity in the final minutes of the Green-White Game, with his team trailing by seven points, 17-10, with 6:13 left, taking over possession on his team's 33-yard line. But the White team took the ball out of Maxwell's hands as a thrower. On first down, the White tried to pass the ball deep to Maxwell as a WR out of the Wildcat. On second down, Keshawn Martin carried the ball on a Wildcat keeper. Then on third down, Martin gained four on a reverse. On fourth-and-one, Le'Veon Bell was stopped by Anthony Rashad White. Maxwell didn't attempt one pass in four downs.
It was a great chance to let Maxwell try to rally the team with conventional quarterbacking and perhaps gain some confidence in himself and from his teammates. Instead, the loose creativity and competitiveness that is associated with MSU's spring game may have unfortunately superseded the opportunity for important player development.
4. Cousins gained reminders this spring that he isn't super natural.
Cousins did a good job in 2010 of cutting back on his mistakes and not trying to force passes through the proverbial wall when times grew tight, as had been the case in '09. Cousins did revert back to some haphazard decisions when the Iowa game showed early signs of getting away from MSU. For the most part, however, he reduced his propensity to err.
This spring, he let it fling a few times in experimental situations. The defense rapped his knuckles.
Cousins on his first INT in the first scrimmage: "We're always told, 'Don't make a bad situation worse,' and I tried to do too much and threw an interception to Johnny Adams. But the best place for me to throw that ball was basically out of bounds and play for the next play and I didn't do that."
Spring ball is the perfect place for Cousins to re-learn these lessons while honing and amplifying other parts of his game. Consider it good lab work.
Michigan State would not trade its quarterback situation with any team in the Big Ten. Cousins will quite simply be one of the best pocket QBs in the nation. Maxwell is in a perfect situation, learning as a redshirt sophomore without having too much pressure and expectation thrown at him too soon ? Keith Nichol is in the bullpen in case of emergency. Nichol might not be sharp enough as a thrower to lead the team to victories, but perhaps he could help avert a disastrous season, if necessary ? Barring injuries, freshman Connor Cook will get to do what Cousins and Maxwell did as freshmen, and that's lead the scout team. Meanwhile, the presence of Maxwell and Cook will not scare off any recruits for the Class of 2012. The QB picture is basically close to perfect, on paper.
The Notable QB plus (+) plays and negative (-) plays at the Green-White Game.
+ Maxwell, good feet on counter boot pass to TE Garrett Celek for 22 on first play of the game. Maxwell can get out and throw on the run.
- On 2-14 in the 2Q: Maxwell missed Garrett Celek deep. Celek was open on a slant and go. The DBs on that side of the field, CB Mitchell White and S Isaiah Lewis, seemed to have trouble deciphering. Real good rush by R-freshman DE Taylor Calero, quick and low and kept coming through contact on this play vs RT Zach Hueter.
- On 2-11 in 3Q: Maxwell short-hopped a pass to WR Milton Colbert on a comeback. Maxwell felt a little bit of pressure, stepped up in the pocket and quick-arm/short-armed it.
- On a 1-10 in the 1H: Maxwell seemed to overthrow an open Keshawn Martin against Lippett. William Gholston with a decent rip and pass rush vs RT Michael Dennis sped up Maxwell on this play.
+ Maxwell had a 39-yarder to Celek on an end-around pass out of the Wildcat called back for ineligible man downfield.
+ Cousins with good brain, gamesmanship and killer instinct in going right at questionable CB Dana Dixon on two straight plays after White had cut the lead to 14-10. He pumped and went deep to WR Keith Nichol on a stutter-and-go for 30, then came back and threw a fade to Bennie Fowler on the next play vs. Dixon for a gain of 14, leading later to a field goal.
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