Michigan State QB Tyler O'Connor looking to prove himself against Notre Dame

Mike Vorel
South Bend Tribune

Michigan State’s starting quarterback is a 6-foot-3, 228-pound puzzle.

Here’s what the world currently knows about Tyler O’Connor:

• He goes by Tyler (though, technically, his first name is Michael).

• He attended Lima Central Catholic High School in Lima, Ohio, where he was a four-year starter at quarterback and also starred as a kicker and punter.

• He is the son of Mike and Barb O’Connor.

• He was born on March 4, 1994, which means that he shares a birthday with fellow Michigan State Spartan Draymond Green.

• He wears No. 7.

• He is very familiar with A.) wearing a headset and B.) holding a clipboard.

Now, here’s what the world is going to find out on Saturday:

Can Tyler — not Michael — get it done on a national stage?

Considering Notre Dame’s secondary, he should have every chance to. In their season-opening 50-47 overtime loss at Texas on Sept. 4, the Irish allowed 280 passing yards, including completions of 68 and 72 yards, to true freshman quarterback Shane Buechele. Last week against Nevada, that same group lost perhaps its top playmaker – sophomore cornerback Shaun Crawford – for the season with a torn Achilles.

The Notre Dame secondary is vulnerable. But can O’Connor expose it?

“Well, I think as an offense we have to take advantage of the things that we see relative to weaknesses or things that we can exploit,” said Michigan State head coach Mark Dantonio, spouting well-worn coaching rhetoric. “That's what everybody does. At the same time, we've got to press the issue. I don't think there is any question about that, and (we have to) do what we do.

“'Do what we do’ has been win the possession time, not turn it over, win the turnover battle, convert on third down, be effectively running the football. All those things.”

Added O’Connor: “We have a lot of opportunities to make a lot of plays. It's important for us to get the ball in our playmakers’ hands and we'll do that early and often. We'll have them on their heels and kind of keep attacking, because we know we're going to have to score points.”

Michigan State didn’t score all that many of them in its season-opening 28-13 victory over Furman. Making just his second collegiate start in his fifth season, O’Connor completed 13 of 18 passes for 190 yards with three touchdowns and one interception. Last season, O’Connor made his first career start in Michigan State’s 17-14 upset victory over Ohio State, and he completed 7 of 12 passes for 89 yards and a touchdown and ran for 25 yards on eight carries.

When it comes to game tape, that’s just about all Notre Dame has to work with.

So, besides being Connor Cook’s longtime backup, who is Tyler O’Connor? And what’s the fifth-year senior capable of?

“He's prototypical in the sense of a Michigan State quarterback in that, you know, they're coached very similar in a sense that they don't make a lot of mistakes, they take what the defense gives them,” Notre Dame head coach Brian Kelly said. “They're not prone to try to put the game on their shoulders. They're not going to be the reason why they lose.

“He can make plays with his feet. He can be involved in the running game and he can throw the ball down the field. They're just smart quarterbacks. They take care of the football, and they do what they're asked to do.”

But they don’t win against Notre Dame. At least, not recently. Kirk Cousins lost to the Irish in 2011. Andrew Maxwell fell in 2012. Cook suffered the same fate in 2013.

Now, it’s O’Connor’s chance to buck the trend and make his name.

“Growing up, if any fan, I was a Notre Dame fan,” O’Connor said. “But that obviously faded a long, long time ago. It's a rich tradition. It's great history over at Notre Dame. I have been there a couple times as a kid, and it's a great environment to play the game.

“It's something you dream about whether you were or weren't a Notre Dame fan or liked or didn't like Notre Dame. It's a great atmosphere playing on NBC and everything. It's a nationally covered game. It's just a great opportunity to play in a great environment in front of the whole country. It's always been a rivalry everybody's wanted to watch, Michigan State and Notre Dame. So there's been a lot of great games and we just want to add to that this year.”


Twitter: @mikevorel

C1 Michigan State quarterback Tyler O'Connor (7) is stopped on a keeper by Furman's Jaylan Reid, right, and T.J. Warren during the Sept. 2 game in East Lansing, Mich. AP Photo/AL GOLDIS