Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Assume the Position: Quarterbacks

This is part two of an ambitiously stated seven part series. This series will focus on introducing MSU fans to their position group players. It is not intended to replace the quality analysis that media types can provide, but we give it our best shot. We'll work backwards from the most stable position groups to the more dynamic ones so we can write about the most volatile groups last.

This entry should have about as much drama as a sleep laboratory. Kirk Cousins is our quarterback, a fifth-year senior and third year starter. Andrew Maxwell is not pushing to oust him from the position. Kirk Cousins will be your Youngstown State starter as well as take the final snap in our final game this year barring injury.

Kirk Cousins

The most interesting story about how Kirk Cousins came to be the player he is today is how much competition he's had to play through to get the job. The quick recap is that Keith Nichol accepted an offer to play football at MSU in 2005, then decommitted with the firing of John L Smith in November of 2006. Kirk Cousins committed to MSU in January of 2007 after the hiring of Mark Dantonio. Mark Dantonio then received a commitment from Nick Foles who decommitted from ASU after Dennis Erickson was fired. In fall of 2007, Dantonio had to redshirt one of the two QBs and selected Cousins. Foles would be the third string QB and Cousins the scout team QB.

Then... in 2008, Nick Foles left the program after it was Cousins shaping up to be Hoyer's backup and not Foles. A few months after this happened Keith Nichol decided it was time for him to come home and try to win back the MSU starting QB job. Over 2008 and well into game 5 or 6 of 2009 Cousins and Nichol battled to be the starting QB for the Spartans. Finally, he won the job outright mid-season in 2009 and hasn't looked back. The guy has proven himself over and over and over and over and will happily do it again from what I can tell.

Kirk Cousins is a leader and as much the leader of this team as anyone, he's a third year starter and a third year captain. His leadership qualities appear to be second to none, and he will probably be a Senator in the United States Congress someday.

He says it better than I do.

Captain Kirk's stats showed improvement from 2009 to 2010. His completion percentage went up from 60.4 to 66.9 percent, ypa went from 8.17 to 8.36, TDs from 19 to 20 and Int's went from 9 to 10. He took 8 more sacks in 2010, but I think this was part of knowing when to hold 'em and knowing when to fold 'em.

2011 Prediction: I suspect that with the departure of only Mark Dell and Charlie Gantt but the emergence of Bennie Fowler and Dion Sims that Cousins' throwing options will remain equally as competent for 2011. It seems reasonable to expect a slightly higher completion percentage provided he has time to throw behind his new OL (more on this later). Statistically, I'd expect him to be the best pocket QB in the Big Ten this year behind only maybe Dan Persa. **

The thing that makes Kirk Cousins special however, is not his completion percentage, nor his TD to INT ratio. He's not a swashbuckler, he's not a Brett Favre, you just get the sense when he's out there that everything will be ok. He might make a poor decision from time to time, he might take an unnecessary sack. I've never gotten the feeling that he's lost or can't convey that sense of calm to the remainder of the offense. He's the leader of these Spartans and the quality of his leadership will go a long way to determining our on-field success this year. I think he has it in him to take this team far.

** - Comparing Denard Robinson to Kirk Cousins in this regard is comparing apples to oranges, the zone read and pro style are just not the same offense, not even kind of. Denard would struggle in the MSU offense and Kirk would struggle in the Zone Read. Hence the qualifier "pocket QB". Both Robinson and Cousins are excellent football players, but they are such different QBs they cannot be adequately compared in my opinion

Andrew Maxwell

Backing up Captain Kirk is Andrew Maxwell. Maxwell has seen limited relief in his two seasons at MSU. In fact he only even took a snap last year for the first time. His stats for 2010 were 11 of 25 for 123 yards, no touchdowns, no picks and 4 sacks. In fairness, 16 of those 25 passes were against Iowa and Alabama in games we were getting our butts whupped in.

He was the starter for the Dow Chemics his sophomore, junior and senior year. Maxwell came to MSU after graduating the Elite 11 camp having earned the "Most Accurate Passer" award. After committing to MSU in March of 2008 he continued to work the national camp circuits to improve his technique, etc.

2011 Prediction

If Andrew Maxwell sees any significant time this year, you can assume that Cousins' has received an injury. Cousins' saw limited action in 2008 in situations where the outcome of the game was not yet decided, but the timing of his entry into the game likely would not have an outcome. Think early second quarter against a lesser opponent(CMU, Minnesota, etc). Expect this trend to continue for Maxwell this year against lesser opponents as well as traditional mop-up type duties.

I'd expect should Maxwell see more than just limited playing time to see our offense struggle at least initially. Accommodations would probably be made to shift the focus of our offense back to run-first and pass second as opposed to a mix of the two which is what we did under Treadwell. As far as projected stats, there is just not a valid foundation to make any sort of prediction. I do suspect in 2013 we'll be really happy with our redshirt senior Andrew Maxwell, but I just do not know how he'd do if thrown to the wolves this year. He has the tools to succeed, that's all I'll say.

Connor Cook

Connor Cook is a true freshman from Ohio. He had offers from a couple big ten schools and most of the MAC. His junior year his high school team ran a pro-style MANBALL offense, but switched to a more spread-like offense his senior year to highlight and take advantage of Connor Cook's arm. "completed 116-of-199 throws (.583) for 1,700 yards, 15 TDs and seven interceptions as a senior . . . rushed 79 times for 443 yards (5.6 avg.) and five scores in 2010 ". He honestly sounds a bit more like a Northwestern Quarterback than an MSU pocket back.

2011 Prediction

I would expect to see Connor Cook redshirt this year. I think if Cousins and Maxwell went down you'd sooner see Keith Nichol play QB to finish out a game than Connor Cook. If you're looking at multiple week injuries for both you MIGHT maybe see Connor Cook. With no offense meant to Mr. Cook, I hope we don't see him this fall.

Keith Nichol

Keith Nichol is a transfer from Oklahoma whose story was detailed a bit above. Currently he is going to be a starter at WR and is probably one of the best run-blocking WR I have seen in college football. He gets an honorable mention at QB because in an emergency situation he'd be our go-to guy. I suspect if injuries meant a more than single game loss of Maxwell and Cousins, you'd see Cook get the nod over Nichol.

That said, he scored our only touchdown against Alabama in our battle against Goliath. He also won us the Michigan game in 2009 when the game was on the line. I'd never count this guy out when the chips are really down.

2011 Prediction

Keith Nichol's time at quarterback should be limited to gimmick and wildcat type plays. That said, he and Keshawn Martin could give coaches fits if we do run any sort of wildcat type package with any regularity.

Peter Badovinac

Peter is a transfer from Drake University after being named Chicago Catholic League Offensive Player of the Year in 2007. He is a preferred walk-on at MSU and I suspect if you see him in the game beyond a senior day type scenario it's so he can kneel out the clock.

2011 Prediction

Badovinac is not expected to contribute significant minutes in 2011.

Tommy Vento

Vento was the QB at Farmington Hills Harrison last fall. He went 156-of-276 passes (.565) for 2,803 yards and 31 touchdowns as a senior. He is a preferred walk-on at MSU this year.

2011 Prediction

Vento is not expected to contribute significant minutes in 2011.

Overall Assessment:The Quarterback position remains in the good hands of Captain Kirk this year. Backing him up is the talented but unproven Andrew Maxwell. Behind Maxwell, is the also talented and hopefully redshirted Connor Cook. Our overall depth at QB is kind of thin right now, ideally you'd like to have three available scholarship QBs and we really only have two right now. Nichol and Cook both are on scholarship, but you'd prefer to keep both off the field at QB this year. As goes Cousins, so will go the offense.

Worst Case Scenario: Cousins is injured at some point before our murderer's row of an away schedule. Maxwell is not yet ready to take over the reins and struggles behind an OL that is seeing 3 of it's 5 starters replaced. We're forced to run more often than we were in 2010 or 2007, power defenses can key on the run and we won't be enough of a threat through the air to force them to stop. Our offense goes from being one of the big ten best to middle of the pack.

Best Case Scenario: Cousins remains healthy throughout the season and builds off of his 2010 success. He remains an effective game manager but shows improvements in throwing the ball away and continues to improve the TD to INT ratio. He gets the school record for touchdowns in a season(only 22). His good decision-making allows MSU to create long, sustained drives of more than 5 minutes that lead to touchdowns.

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