Indiana matchup has makings of big bounce-back game for Tyler O’Connor
Hours removed from his first loss as the Michigan State starter, Tyler O’Connor got a text from Mark Dantonio. He probably wanted to make sure his quarterback was doing OK after taking his first real beating at the collegiate level.
Dantonio found out that O’Connor had already watched the Wisconsin game film. Twice.
Eager he was to move on to Indiana, but not before learning what it was that plagued his afternoon. He didn’t have to watch the game film twice to realize that Wisconsin’s relentless pressure was the source of his nightmare afternoon. Whether it was not changing the protection, failing to step up in the pocket or just missing wide-open receivers, O’Connor was a mess.
Saturday showed why it’s difficult to have a first-year starter under center, but also why having a fifth-year senior is critical in times like these.
O’Connor will get a chance to bounce back on the road. He’ll face an Indiana defense that’s improved, but is still nowhere near the level Wisconsin was at.
Thanks to the Badgers, Indiana defensive coordinator Tom Allen got the blueprint to fluster the MSU quarterback and ultimately stall the Spartan offense.
Dialing up the same kind of pressure and executing that, however, would be unheard of for the IU defense.
The Hoosiers rank 94th in the country in sacks per game. They also rank 119th of 128 FBS teams in tackles for loss per game. The numbers show you that yes, this defense isn’t getting gashed nearly as badly as it did last year, but it also isn’t getting to the quarterback. And that was against the likes of FIU, Ball State and Wake Forest.
For O’Connor to look like he did against Notre Dame, a clean pocket would do him wonders.
It’s clear that O’Connor isn’t working with the same offensive line that took over at Ohio State last year. The Spartans are still a work in progress up front. This group replaced three starters, one of which was arguably the best left tackle in the country.
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Even coming off the Notre Dame win, O’Connor said it was “like musical chairs on the offensive line.” He actually meant that as a positive. O’Connor praised the unit’s versatility and how guys like Kodi Kieler can play three different positions in one game.
But all those different rotations didn’t help MSU against Wisconsin. In fact, it looked like the Spartans didn’t know who they were supposed to pick up. That’s why so many different Badgers got to O’Connor untouched.
This is just a gut call, but it’d be stunning to see a Dantonio-led team make those mistakes a second straight week. If roles need to be defined, he’ll define them. If quicker decisions need to be made, Dantonio will have O’Connor getting rid of the ball sooner.
That was really the first time that we saw O’Connor have to make decisions in obvious passing situations. In the first three starts of his career, the running game was always there. Wisconsin completely took that away.
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After LJ Scott ripped off 19 yards on his first carry, MSU was held to 17 yards on nine first-down rushes against Wisconsin. It would be a minor miracle if IU had that kind of success.
Indiana is vastly improved against the run this year — albeit against lesser competition — but the chances of the Hoosiers matching Wisconsin’s defensive dominance in the ground game are slim.
And if IU contains O’Connor, it would be bucking another trend. In the Mark Dantonio era, look at how his quarterbacks have fared against Indiana since Kevin Wilson arrived:
|2011||296 yards, 3 TDs, 0 INTs||W 55-3|
|2012||290 yards, 2 TDs, 0 INTs||W 31-27|
|2013||235 yards, 2 TDs, 1 INT||W42-28|
|2014||332 yards, 3 TDs, 1 INT||W 56-17|
|2015||398 yards, 4 TDs, 0 INTs||W 52-26|
That’s an average of 310 yards, 2.8 touchdowns, 0.4 interceptions and 47 points per matchup vs. the IU defense.
Allen is obviously operating with a different system and O’Connor and Connor Cook are different quarterbacks (despite having similar names). Still, sometimes a coach just has your number.
It’ll be interesting to see how Dantonio and O’Connor respond in Bloomington. O’Connor hadn’t lost before last week. Dantonio’s teams haven’t been held under 30 points in a loss in three years.
The two are still figuring each other out. Last week was definitely a wake-up call for both of them.
This week, it shouldn’t take a postgame text to get on the same page.