Duffy Daugherty Football Building
East Lansing, MI
It was clear the moment the last second of last year’s Cotton Bowl ticked off the clock that this team would be led by fifth year senior QB Tyler O’Connor. The young man is loved by his teammates and is sits in command of the team
I asked him about this finally being his team. “I have enjoyed it a lot. Certainly it is exciting being in a leadership role finally, being the oldest guy in the room and everything. It is fun. It is always tough and always a grind, especially that we are getting into the grind now, but you have to embrace every single second of it because it can be gone in any second."
This coming Saturday is the biggest scrimmage of the year for Spartan football, and O’Connor reflected on his play last Saturday. "I personally didn't play my best. I was not as accurate as I wanted to be. There was a lot of inconsistencies as an offense that we need to take care of as a group, because one position really does affect each other, especially in our offense. Personally, I was not my best and I know a lot of other guys would probably say that about themselves as well."
One of the biggest job of any quarterback at any level is making players around him better. So does O’Connor embrace that part of leading the 2016 Spartans?
"Certainly. That is very critical, especially being a fifth-year senior and knowing the offense in and out and knowing what our defenses are doing. Being able to relate to the younger players in a way that maybe the coaches can't, maybe pull them aside and talk to them as opposed to being taught just once in the film room, really showing them how it is going to work on the field and things like that. That is a big part of my job and it is a big part to our success, I think."
So while O’Connor is clearly the leader, does he sit on pins and needles ready for Dantonio to make it public? "I want it really bad. I look back to when Coach D came into my house and sat in my basement and asked myself and asked my parents, `Are we ready for this and everything that is going to come with it?' I have been waiting long enough for it and I told him from the beginning that I wanted all of this pressure. I wanted everything. I'll take all of the blame or whatever. It is the role that I feel I was born to be in. I am very willing to take everything, whatever, good or bad. I think it is my time."
With a roster full of very talented, but also very young wide receivers how does O’Connor see the chemistry with the wide outs coming along? "Very well. Even though Saturday was not as productive as we would have liked it to be, whether we learn from mistakes or success, we are growing each and every day. I think the young guys would agree with that. It is just seeing different coverages, how they are going to either stack a cornerback or fade on a ball, things like that. It is going along really quickly, especially with (WR) Donnie (Corley) and the younger guys. Even the older guys that you think you have great chemistry with, it even grows exponentially from there."
QB Coach Brad Salem spoke about Tyler’s performance saying, "I think, obviously, you get some veteran players, guys who have been in the system and around the program and know what is expected. Tyler played very well, very consistent. He made some really nice checks, getting us in and out of the right plays.”
Does Salem think that O’Connor has that “it” factor that so many attribute to great quarterbacks? "Yes, very much so. I think that is kind of what you thought when it was that race three years ago. He was just a redshirt freshman, but he has a presence and something about him in the huddle and I think that carries over to other players."
So what does Salem see from O’Connor that is separating him from a QB room with four quality players? Simple, "Part of it is, you are just going to see it when he plays. But, we have evidence in the Ohio State game. I think he just continues on the trek that he is on. It is just steady growth every day, confidence and really throwing the ball with some accuracy and making some plays with his feet."
So does the MSU QB Coach think O’Connor has that inherent ability to make players around him better? The great ones must have it."I think that is a characteristic of a very good quarterback and I think he has that. You have to make the people around you better in that position. Whether it is placing the football or just making calls to get the ball to certain people. You have to have it and he has shown it."
The football season is long and camp is far from done, but with all of the talk about what the Spartans lost, it is time to talk about what they have. No doubt Connor Cook had great success at Michigan State that he parlayed into an opportunity in the NFL.
People that the Spartans were done when Kirk Cousins left and they weren’t. They think they are done now that Cook is gone and I can assuredly tell you they are not.