(When a series I want to do is done better by a reader, that's always going to get a bump. -- Pete)
This is an early installment in a planned series of 'Heck Dorland steals college football preview ideas from people who are much better than him'. This particular idea is lifted from SBNation's own Rock M Nation. Their excellent 'walkthrough' of their team, position by position, inspired me to do a similar breakdown of our Spartans. Starting with QB, I will hopefully, in the coming months, work my way through the offense and then on to the defense. Enjoy.
Kirk Cousins (6'3, 202 lbs)
2010: 226 for 338 (66.9%), 2825 yards, 8.4YPA, 20 Tds, 10 INTs, 40 carries, -136 yards, 1 TD
2009: 198 for 328 (60.4%), 2680 yards, 8.2 YPA, 19 Tds, 9 INTs, 31 carries, 60 yards, 0 TD
2008: 32 of 43 (74.4%), 310 yards, 7.2 YPA, 2TD, 1 INT, 3 carries, -12 yards, 0 TD
Go take a look at Kirk Cousins 4th quarter situational stats and try not to be amazed:
41 for 62 (66.1%), 518 yards, 8.35YPA, 7 Tds, 1 INT.
And his stats for the totality of the 2nd half are, if anything, more amazing:
102 for 146 (69.9%), 1395 yards, 9.55 YPA, 11 Tds, 3 INTs
Only Ricky Stanzi or Ben Chappell could arguably match that production, and both did so with much lower completion percentages. TOC lamented the lack of a good Kirk Cousins nickname. I'd humbly submit, 'Credits', because once he gets rolling, the show's over.
But these amazing second half stats of course come with an ominous flip side: What about the first half then? It's a case of Dr. Mediocre Big Ten Quarterback and Mr. All American. In 1st halves last year, he managed just:
124 for 192 (64.6%), 1430 yards, 7.45 YPA, 9 Tds, 7 INTs.
As I'm sure all fans remember, these slow starts by Cousins are arguably a leading reason why we fell so far behind in the Iowa, Alabama, Purdue, and Northwestern contests. A lot of blame gets lobbed at Cousins' 'throwing off his back foot' too much, but I think the reports that came out about his ankle (I think?) injuries put that to rest for me as a major mechanical concern. I think a healthy Cousins makes fewer of those bad technique throws.
It was sort of disappointing to see him drop of from a 'respectable for a pocket quarterback' 2 yards a carry to an atrocious -3.4 YPC. Yes, most of those are bad yards are due to sacks, but his lack of mobility (also maybe due to aforementioned injury) probably contributed to that. I mean, no one thinks KC is Antwaan Randle El back there, but being at least a respectable threat to take off and run could help keep DBs honest.
But as far as a pure passer, he's great, maybe the best ever to come through MSU. He's accurate on short throws and has the arm strength to stretch defenses vertically. He rarely makes bad decisions with the football, and gets stronger as the game goes on. As a third year starter, he has all the necessary experience (the highs and the lows) you could ask for out of a QB. He's wicked smart. And, crucial for a quarterback and captain, he seems to be a leader of men, and has the charisma to lead a big ten program.
Look, what more do I really need to say? We know what's up with this guy. With Dan Persa coming off a rough injury, Terrelle Pryor
ruining his team's season leaving, and Denard Robinson changing schemes, Kirk Cousins almost has to be slotted in as the Big Ten's top returning QB. He's shown rock solid production with a chance to possibly hit a higher ceiling in his third year. If he can go from his steady 2-1 TD to INT ratio to something more like 3-1 he should be in the conversation for top QB in the country. And, well, that's a pretty nice card to have in your hand.
The heir apparent
Andrew Maxwell (6'3, 208 lbs.)
2010: 11 for 25 (44%), 123 yards, 4.9 YPA, 0 TD, 0 INT, 5 carries, -37 yards
Who is Andrew Maxwell?
That's the question I find myself asking as we enter 2011. He's been in the program for two years now, and, despite being the team's back up quarterback I don't really know that much about him.
Here's what I do know: his stats last year were not good. A 44% completion rate is rough. A 4.9 YPA average is just as bad. It also appears he took a lot of sacks.
Here's another thing: he didn't get the typical 'backup quarterback of a championship winning team' treatment. Instead of getting to frolic against the likes of WMU and Northern Colorado, he more often had to enter games against Iowa and Alabama (Who? Oh, just two of the top defenses in the country) and try and get something going with a demoralized squad around him. He didn't manufacture Tds but he didn't make huge mistakes either. In particular, a beautiful 34 yard strike to Charlie Gantt in the Capital One Bowl remains one of my few good memories about that game.
And here's the last thing: He's got the hype. 4*, Elite 11 QB out of high school. Fantastic student. MSU's offensive scout team player of the year in 2009. Reports out of this Spring were almost uniformly positive (to the point where some er, misguided, MSU fans were thinking, 'Hey, maybe we should start Maxwell this year?') and the coaches rave about him every chance they get. Seems to have the strongest arm strength on the team.
So given that he is almost assuredly going to be our starter heading into a massive game against Boise State to kick off the 2012 season, do I trust my eyes or my ears in this case? I'll give Coach D and staff the benefit of the doubt here, and trust the hype for now, despite some evidence to the contrary. The kid seems to have a hell of an arm, and hopefully will grow more accurate as he gets more reps. After all, he's only a redshirt sophomore. But please, please, can we get this kid like, 50 game day snaps this year? I can haz blowouts?
In case of fire, break glass
Keith Nichol (6'2, 222 lbs.)
2010: 4 for 7 (57.1%), 62 yards, 8.9 YPA, 2 Tds, 0 INTs, 4 carries, 9 yards
2009: 49 of 91 (53.8%) 764, 8.4 YPA, 7TDs, 3 INTs, 22 carries, 128 yards, 1 TD
Keith Nichol is a true Spartan. I am always going to rep this kid because when he lost out his QB job, and the team was in the turmoil of the Rather Hall aftermath, he put the team first, switched positions, and worked his butt off to become a serviceable wide receiver. But we'll get to that later.
How is he in the emergency third QB role? Well, pretty damn good actually. He's still too inaccurate, and he isn't quite the running threat a lot of fans think he is, but 'Keith Nichol efficiently throws touchdown passes' isn't too crazy of a label to put on him. He (and Fowler) put up our only points against Alabama, saving us from total embarrassment, even if it was in garbage time.
I was never a 'Keith Nichol for QB' guy. I always preferred Cousins and thought the QB controversy went on too long and cost us games in '09. I hope Keith doesn't have to see any time away from his spot at WR. But you know, if Kirk Cousins and Andrew Maxwell both fell into the Springfield Mystery Spot, I'd feel perfectly fine with Nichol going back under center. And that's more than I could say for most third QBs in my lifetime. Respect.
The New Guy
Connor Cook (6'3, 197 lbs. ***rivals/**scout)
Cook comes in with little recruiting hype, but is a prospect who seems to be in line with exactly what the staff wants out of the QB position. He has good size for a freshman, played in a pro-style offense in high school, and seems to have some wheels on him. His arm seems strong and accurate from looking at his high school tape, and he seems to be prepped for a red shirt to get stronger, learn the terminology, and hopefully get good reps with the scout team. He committed to MSU very early in the process, so he skipped most of the evaluation camps and events. He got some interest from Elite 11 before turning down the invitation to focus on his high school season. Cook put up good stats in the Ohio v. Pennsylvania all star game that was just played recently. He'll be someone to keep an eye on until next year, when he should get Spring Game reps in 2012.
Joe Boisture's medical problems and subsequent retirement were both a real shame. But excepting that sad note, the future for MSU both this year and beyond at the QB position looks exceptionally bright. For the second year in a row, there will be no exhausting QB controversy and for the second year in a row, everyone knows who the back-up guy is. I look forward to a fantastic season by Cousins and a smooth transition of power to Maxwell in 2012.
In the pipeline
I expect to have the Running Back section up shortly. I also have various posts in the works revolving around MSU's possible step up in schedule difficulty, the value of a good offensive line, and a couple favorite 'advanced statistics'. Expect those sometime in the next few weeks. Because summer is too long not to talk about football.