Maxwell Impresses in Homecoming of Sorts against CMU
MOUNT PLEASANT, Mich. - They were the kind of passes Andrew Maxwell first saw completed while sitting next to his dad in Kelly/Shorts Stadium.
Maybe he imagined himself throwing them for touchdowns when his mind wandered the next day during church services, or the following week when he should have been paying attention in elementary school in Midland, a half-hour's drive on M-20 away.
Except this time, it was Maxwell who was doing the actual throwing in the place where he first fell head over heels for football.
Yes, he made his debut as Michigan State's starter in the season-opening win over Boise State, but he asserted control over the game as only a quarterback can while throwing the Spartans to a 41-7 victory over Central Michigan on Saturday.
It was fitting that Maxwell arrived as MSU's quarterback in the place where it all began.
"I grew up coming to games here," Maxwell said. "When you're a kid, you're 5 or 6 and you really start to fall in love with the game. To come to a place like this and see it up close and personal, that's something that really makes you fall in love with the game.
"To have that background and then to come back here and to be the starting quarterback on a team that gets to come in here and play - that was a special experience for me and something I really enjoyed."
"It was a blast," Maxwell said.
If Maxwell's performance against Boise State left Spartan fans wanting and wondering, what he did against the Chippewas should have them satisfied going into next Saturday's game against Notre Dame in Spartan Stadium.
It wasn't so much that he completed 20-of-31 passes for 275 yards, no interceptions and his first two touchdowns of the season. It was how and when he moved the ball through the air.
A week after Michigan State's offense and Le'Veon Bell dominated Boise State on the ground, it was determined to take flight in a meaningful way in a hostile environment.
Bell powered MSU to a 7-0 lead in the first quarter by rushing for all but 12 yards on a 32-yard scoring drive.
However, on the Spartans next trip to the end zone, Maxwell picked up first downs with a 12- and 29-yard passes to wideouts Bennie Fowler and Keith Mumphery, respectively, to set up Bell's 7-yard TD sprint.
And with 2:29 to go in the first half, Maxwell diced and sliced the Chippewa pass defense with his deft handiwork.
Starting from the MSU 27-yard line, Maxwell picked up 17-yard chunk of yardage to tight end Dion Sims. He made up for two consecutive incompletions with an 11-yard sideline toss to Mumphery. After an incompletion and a false-start penalty set up second-and-15 at midfield, Maxwell threw passes of 8 and 11 yards to Fowler, and another 11 yards to Tony Lippett, who was snakebit against Boise State.
And finally, Maxwell completed the 73-yard, nine-play possession with a 20-yard scoring strike to Sims. Maxwell covered nearly the length of the field in 92 seconds on 6-for-9 passing, including four-straight completions at the end.
"It felt good," he said of the two-minute drill. "That's something we practice all the time. I got the ball out of my hand quick, the offensive line did a great job protecting me and we got the ball to our playmakers and let them work."
After Johnny Adams intercepted a pass a few seconds later, Maxwell misfired a pass to a wide-open Mumphery in the end zone and MSU settled for a Dan Conroy field goal, but he made up for it in the third quarter with a career-long 48-yard pass to DeAnthony Arnett and a 7-yard scoring pass to Fowler.
The offense took a critical step forward with Maxwell.
"You never want to be an offense that's one-dimensional because once you become one-dimensional, soon you can become no-dimensional," he said. "Today, I thought we ran the ball extremely well and I think that left us in second- and third-and-short, which makes your passing game a lot easier when you know you can stand back there forever and find open guys."
Central Michigan was by no means an easy test for Maxwell. The Chippewas confronted him with a lot of movement and an array of blitzes, which he countered with the help of his offensive linemen.
"Last week, Andrew Maxwell got hit 11 times, so our pass-protection wasn't that great," said senior offensive guard Chris McDonald. "We were focusing on that this game, but we still wanted to be balanced. Andrew trusts us, so we had to put it on our backs to be able to protect him.
"He was the same as he's always been. It was just another game for him. I think he's a great quarterback."
Fowler, who led all receivers with a career-best eight catches for 99 yards and the second touchdown of his career, and first since 2010, said Maxwell continues to improve and develop, however.
"He gets more poised and his swagger goes up notch," Fowler said. "During that two-minute (drill), he got his rhythm and you could tell he was very poised back there. Just from the way he was calling the plays, we knew we were going to go down and score."
Third-year Central Michigan coach Dan Enos, who was the quarterback on MSU's 1990 Big Ten championship team, was a Spartan assistant during Maxwell's true freshman season in 2009.
"He's a good player," Enos said. "I liked him when I was there. He's a great young man. He's very poised and very smart. He'll be very good player in that league for them. What I saw out of him last week (against Boise State), was I saw him make some big plays in the fourth quarter when they needed a drive to win the game, and he made them.
"Today, he made some good throws. We blitzed him a lot and threw a lot of things at him, and I thought he handled them well. I think he'll be a good football player."
Maxwell would be the first to say he's not a finished player by any stretch of the imagination. He still has to learn how to throw what his former high school coach called a batting practice fastball to an open receiver in the end zone instead of a heater. But, it's all part of the process.
"We're just going to keep getting better," he said. "We're going to throw this film on and learn from it and clean up the mistakes. I know the coaches are going to have us ready and we're going to have a great week of preparation, and we'll be ready to play on Saturday night."
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