Tyler O'Connor proves he's the leader MSU's offense needs
There are a lot of things Tyler O’Connor won’t be.
He isn’t going to be a 3,000-yard passer. He’s not going to be recognized as one of the best quarterbacks in the B1G. He’s not going to find his name on any Heisman lists at any point throughout the season.
But there is one thing O’Connor will be. He’ll be Michigan State’s starting quarterback. And he’ll be a damn good one.
The fifth-year senior got his opportunity on Friday night and he took advantage. He completed 13 of his 18 pass attempts for 190 yards and three touchdowns in the 2016 debut for the Spartans. Any reservations about whether the Lima, Ohio native can lead the offense of the reigning B1G champs should be pushed aside.
If you just looked at the final score, a 28-13 win over FCS Furman may have you questioning whether or not O’Connor was the right choice to take over one of last season’s top passing teams. But the scoreboard wasn’t a reflection of the quarterbacks performance on Friday night.
Michigan State’s offense was anemic throughout most of the contest. But the few flashes it showed were sparked by O’Connor.
In the second quarter, O’Connor found Felton Davis III for a 13-yard touchdown strike that gave the Spartans a 14-0 lead. O’Connor completed all three of his passes on the drive for 35 yards and the score.
From there, things only got better.
He followed that with a 21-yard touchdown pass to Josiah Price in the third quarter and found Jamal Lyles in the end zone from 12 yards out to round out Michigan State’s scoring in its season-opener.
Just one week into the season, O’Connor is stepping out of Connor Cook’s shadow and emerging as the new offensive leader in East Lansing.
Prior to the season beginning, O’Connor was named one of the team captains for the 2016 season. It was an accolade that his predecessor didn’t receive in his senior campaign. After the game on Friday night, O’Connor was presented with another symbolic award.
The game ball.
Before the season started, O’Connor had earned the respect of his teammates. One game into a long year, he’s earned their trust as an offensive leader, as well.
He certainly wasn’t perfect. After completing 11 of his first 13 throws against Furman, the senior was successful on just two of his final five passes and tossed an untimely interception in the fourth quarter. Fortunately, no harm was done as Andrew Dowell intercepted a Furman pass on the next play, returning the ball to the Spartan offense.
O’Connor shook off the mishap and led the charge of a 12-play, 60-yard drive that sealed the win for Michigan State.
More than the stats or the impressive touchdown passes, O’Connor’s poise in that high-pressure situation validated Mark Dantonio’s decision to hand the keys of the offense to the fifth-year senior.
No, he’s not Connor Cook. And the type of numbers that Cook amassed at Michigan State are figures that O’Connor won’t likely sniff. That’s OK.
He doesn’t need to be the B1G’s leading passer and a Heisman candidate to make a difference for the Spartan offense. His confidence was high on Friday night. That’s what Michigan State needs.
The Spartans need to get better offensively. That includes at quarterback. But this was the first game of the year. A few speed bumps are to be expected.
How good Michigan State can be this season will depend heavily on its offense’s ability to score. While there are still some questions that need to be answered, who will be under center each week isn’t one of them.
O’Connor is just the type of quarterback that Spartans need. He’s got a game ball in his locker to prove it.