A smash-mouth defense, a physical, downhill running game and… professional quarterbacks who come through in the clutch? For one Sunday, that third point is a hallmark of Michigan State football as three former Spartans quarterbacked their professional clubs to victory.
Let’s start with the day’s most unlikely hero, Drew Stanton. Michigan State’s signal caller from 2003-06, Stanton hadn’t recorded a statistic since 2010 until earning a pinch-hit start for the Arizona Cardinals Sunday at the New York Giants. Shaking off the rust quickly and smoothly, Stanton’s first drive in a full World Cup cycle traveled 80 yards in seven plays and put his Cardinals up 7-0. After falling behind 14-10 through three quarters, engineered another lengthy march (13 plays, 74 yards) to pull Arizona to within 14-13. For the day, Stanton completed 14-of-29 passes for 167 yards in a 29-14 win.
Moving down the Eastern seaboard, 2009-11 Michigan State quarterback Kirk Cousins played a familiar role, filling in admirably for an injured Robert Griffin III. After RGIII went down with a dislocated ankle, and Cousins hit the ground running by hitting his first 11 passes. The third-year player completed 22-of-33 passes for 250 yards and two touchdowns, the first of which gave Washington a lead it would not relinquish. For the day, Cousins and company cruised to a 41-10 triumph over Jacksonville.
Finally, the afternoon concluded with a winning effort by the quarterback sandwiched between Stanton and Cousins on the Spartans’ timeline, Brian Hoyer. The quarterback who refuses to cede his job to Johnny Manziel completed 24-of-40 throws for 204 yards and a touchdown. Hoyer was great when he had to be, finding Miles Austin for a three-yard touchdown to give his Cleveland Browns a 7-0 lead in the first quarter, and then closed the game by guiding the Browns from their own four yard-line to the visiting New Orleans Saints’ 14 in 3:31 (Hoyer hit 8-of-11 passes for 78 yards on the march), setting up a Billy Cundiff 29-yard field goal with three seconds remaining to give Cleveland a 26-24 win. It was Cleveland’s second win in a home-opener since the franchise’s 1999 rebirth.
When informed of his former pupils’ 3-0 afternoon, rumor has it Mark Dantonio allowed observers a faint glimpse of something resembling a human smile before returning to preparation for Saturday’s tilt with Eastern Michigan.
Matt LaFleur, formerly of the Washington Redskins, has been named the new quarterbacks coach at Notre Dame. Head coach Brian Kelly and the Irish announced the new addition to the coaching staff Friday, although it had been speculated earlier in the week the hire was imminent.
LaFleur returns to the college game after four years with the Redskins, where he coached former Heisman Trophy winner Robert Griffin III as well as former Michigan State quarterback Kirk Cousins for their first two years in the league with various results. He is a former Kelly assistant at Central Michigan, where he served as an offensive assistant for two seasons before embarking on a different path that would eventually lead to the NFL.
“Matt has a proven resume of developing quarterbacks at numerous levels of football, none more evident than his outstanding work with the Washington Redskins,” said Kelly. “He was a major factor in the success not only of two rookies, Robert Griffin III and Kirk Cousins, but was also crucial in the resurgence of Rex Grossman’s career, who in 2010 under LaFleur established numerous career bests.”
LaFleur will be charged with developing Everett Golson, who will return to the Irish in 2014 after sitting out a season due to academic probation. Golson led the Irish to an undefeated regular season in 2012 that resulted in a berth in the BCS Championship Game. While that 2012 team may have been fueled by a strong defensive effort, Golson brought a certain level of versatility to the offense that had been lacking. In 2012, Golson completed 58.8 percent of his passes for 2,405 yards and 12 touchdowns with six interceptions. He also rushed for 298 yards and six touchdowns. If LaFleur can get Golson to show more accuracy with his pass selections, the Irish should have a fairly viable offense.
Notre Dame ranked 39th in the country last season in passing offense, with Tommy Rees taking on the starting role. The Irish completed just 52.7 percent of their passes (107th in the nation) for 3,313 yards and 27 touchdowns (13 interceptions).
At least for the moment, the Andrew Maxwell era at Michigan State has come to an end.
Shortly before their noon kickoff against USF, the Spartans announced that Connor Cook will start at quarterback for the nonconference game. It will be Cook’s first career start.
Not only was there a change at the top of the depth chart, but redshirt freshman Tyler O’Connor will serve as Cook’s backup and will play in the game per head coach Mark Dantonio. That means, of course, that Maxwell has tumbled from season-opening starter all the way down to the No. 3 QB in just one game.
In that opening win over Central Michigan, which came after a bizarre summer camp competition that was reopened to four players shortly before the start of the season, Maxwell completed 11-of-21 passes for 74 yards. Cook, on the other hand, went 6-for-16 for 42 yards. Neither player threw a touchdown or an interception.
Maxwell started all 13 games in an uneven (to be kind) first year replacing Kirk Cousins, a performance that left the 2013 quarterback job wide open throughout spring practice and into summer camp.
In the end, but only after a bit of uncertainty, Michigan State’s starting quarterback is who we thought it would be.
While the most recent depth chart lists four players at the top of the position, head coach Mark Dantonio confirmed that incumbent Andrew Maxwell will indeed be the Spartans starter. While Maxwell had been the starter in name per Dantonio, the coach “reopened” the competition a week ago to include a whopping four players,
In the end, Maxwell was able to fend off the challenges of Connor Cook, Damien Terry and Tyler O’Connor.
“(Maxwell) brings consistency and knowledge of our offense,” Dantonio said in comments posted on MSU football’s Twitter feed. “I’m comfortable we have a No. 1 QB. He was No. 1 last year. Had some balls dropped, have to protect him. He has great knowledge.
“I told (Maxwell) today, here’s the keys. Bring them back home. It’s important we all go forward together. Giving the keys to car to someone, have to bring it back full. When you look at our four QBs, they possess big-time ability.”
Maxwell started every game last season as the successor to Kirk Cousins, but came under fire early and often because, well, he wasn’t Kirk Cousins. In 2012, Maxwell barely completed 50 percent of his passes (52.5) and threw just 13 touchdowns against nine interceptions. His quarterback rating of 107.1 was ninth in the Big Ten and 109th nationally.
Meandering our way through the offseason, a single one-liner at a time…
— Despite last year’s struggles in the post-Kirk Cousins era, Mark Dantonio is feeling confident about Michigan State’s situation at quarterback this season.
— Baylor has signed Australian rugby player Peni Tagive as part of its 2013 recruiting class.
— State lawmakers delayed a vote on, among other things, an indoor practice facility for the South Carolina football program; related, good luck on that reelection.
— Minnesota’s Jerry Kill gives a state of Gophers football program address.
— PennLive.com takes a look at the three Penn State players who may be on the NFL’s radar heading into 2013.
— Construction on Syracuse’s new indoor practice facility should commence in short order.
— Speaking of indoor practice facilities, the Roanoke Times takes a closer look at the proposed sites for Virginia Tech’s building.
— Best wishes go out to former Alabama quarterback and current Arizona Cardinals assistant Freddie Kitchens, who underwent open-heart surgery earlier in the week to repair a defect in his aorta.