Time For Coach Dantonio To Pick a QB To Run the Show

When fans looked at the season that was upcoming for the Spartans a few weeks ago, many were as optimistic as could be about the chances for MSU to contend for its first Big Ten Championship since 1990. After the past two weekends, though, those dreams seem a bit lofty with a home loss to Central Michigan University and a road defeat to Notre Dame.

Now, the CMU loss wasn’t exactly the same as Michigan’s loss to Toledo last season; even though it’s also a MAC school, Central has one of the best quarterbacks in the nation in Dan LeFevour, a dark horse for the Heisman Trophy. The demoralizing loss, along with a heartbreaker in South Bend, didn’t help the cause for Michigan State. Yes the benefit is that the losses are early, out of conference, and the season has a lot left to it. The downfall, however, is that losses such as these, especially the CMU loss, could be crushing to a young team such as the Spartans.

The Spartan Nation is Fortunate to Have 2 Great QBs in Kirk Cousins and Keith Nichol.
The Spartan Nation is Fortunate to Have 2 Great QBs in Kirk Cousins and Keith Nichol.

As good as a coach as Mark Dantonio is, I think that he is doing his team a disservice in one facet of the game. Let me explain. The staff, since the beginning of training camp, has said that they will use a revolving quarterback system. This gives each QB experience to see which one would respond the best in game situations. Kirk Cousins and Keith Nichol have both looked good at certain points, but this is an area where I think Dantonio has done a disservice to his team. When the season opened, I was nervous about the effect such a system would have on the team.

So far this effect has not been a good one, as Michigan State has started the season 1-2. If the team was 3-0, no one would be complaining and this story probably would not have been written. But at the same time, win or lose, the team is not playing up to its potential and I think that the QB situation might be one of the biggest reasons. Cousins started the game against CMU and wound up going 13-18 for 164 yards and a touchdown. Nichol went 3-8 for 51 yards and a touchdown. Against Notre Dame, Cousins took the vast majority of snaps, but Nichol didn’t look half bad throwing or scrambling. Both players’ stats look good, but this is where the problem comes in: When looking at the QBs, neither has really done anything to separate himself from the other, making for a difficult decision for Dantonio.

Cousins has better numbers, but more reps. Nichol when given a chance has been equally as good. By letting this go on you certainly have to be concerned about the mindset of the team. For example. Against Notre Dame, Keith Nichol’s first drive went down the field for a TD. Great job. His next started with a power run for 1 yard. A power run on second and nine and a pass with eight men dropped back in coverage for a third and long. At that point it was goodbye to Keith. How is that his fault? Whoever the coach picks I support. My concern is that as long as it drags out, you allow room for division and on a 1-2 team that isn’t living up to expectations you need to eliminate all of those opportunities.

Let me be more blunt. This isn’t a pro Nichol anti Cousins article. Nor is it a pro Cousins anti Nichol read. How can either develop looking over their shoulder? I support MSU and I support Coach Dantonio. I just simply see this as a festering issue that can become a problem when things don’t go right.

The single biggest issue isn’t the separation of the two players; it’s the continuity of the team. With a revolving door at quarterback, the offense is susceptible to unsteadiness, making for a much more difficult time for the offensive line and the skill players. This might sound like a small thing, and you might be saying “they have a job, they should do it no matter what,” but hear me out. If the players around the quarterback don’t know which signal caller is leading, or if the team is consistently changing QBs, it makes these guys’ lives more difficult. The offensive line has to play the game differently for each quarterback. Cousins, being a much more traditional style QB, has to have a pocket to give him the chance to get the ball to the playmakers around him. Nichol on the other hand, is a dual-threat kind of guy, so if a play breaks down, the O-Line has to know to get up field to block because Nichol will move.

The other difference comes in the huddle. Cousins is an extremely vocal leader and you saw that after that touchdown pass he threw late in the CMU game when he came to the sidelines hooting and hollering. Nichol is a leader by example on the field; his quiet demeanor is what motivates the players because his play on the field is what sets the tone. The offense cannot gel without one under center and the other calling out plays from the sideline because they have to constantly change their style to adapt to the quarterback in both play and demeanor.

I think that we saw that effect with a bunch of three-and-outs versus a very average Central Michigan defense. Without taking anything away from Central and the job that they did, Michigan State is a superior team and didn’t show it. The inability to sustain drives put pressure on the defense making the unit play more than perhaps it should have.

Before transferring, Nichol went through a similar drama at Oklahoma under Bob Stoops. He competed with Heisman winner Sam Bradford for a shot at winning the starting job. While Bradford looked better in practice, it wasn’t enough for the OU staff to anoint him a starter over Nichol. Stoops did the right thing by naming Bradford the starter before the 2007 season began because it allowed the quarterback and the offense time to gel and become a fluid unit. Dantonio should do the same. Though neither Cousins nor Nichol may become a Heisman winner, by taking a page from the Stoops book of coaching, Dantonio could have done his team a favor by unifying the offense early in the season.

At this point, Dantonio might have realized the revolving QB situation is an issue and he will perhaps name a starter for the rest of the season. Doing so will result in a more united offense and, in turn, a much more unified team overall. The players will have more assurance and a better grasp of the offense because the team will know who’s leading them into battle.

Michigan State needs a steadiness that can’t be had when there is a round-robin at the most important position on the field. I believe in this staff. It is just my opinion this was handled wrong. I KNOW they can turn this season around, I just think one of the key ways is to eliminate any potential distractions.

Keith and Kirk are both great young men. Both have the potential to be great QBs. I wouldn’t think of telling coaches whom to start. I would say pick one.