Dec. 30, 2011
By Steve Grinczel, Online Columnist
TAMPA, Fla. - It's not like Andrew Maxwell is doing anything special to prepare for the series, or two, he may, or may not play, against Georgia in the Outback Bowl.
As the backup to Michigan State three-year starting quarterback Kirk Cousins, Maxwell has been on constant high alert to take the field at a moment's notice for every game over the past two seasons.
To suggest the 6-foot-3, 208-pound sophomore needs to change his routine in preparation of the meaningful snaps head coach Mark Dantonio, offensive coordinator Dan Roushar and quarterbacks coach Dave Warner hope he can get on Monday would imply he wasn't ready before.
And that simply isn't the case.
"You've got to prepare every week like something could happen and you're going to have to finish the whole game," Maxwell said. "Nothing's changed leading up to this bowl game."
As of late this week, Maxwell said he hadn't been told directly by the coaches that he will get to face the Bulldogs as Cousins, then a red-shirt freshman, did in place of Brian Hoyer during the first half of the 2009 Capital One Bowl.
The clear and practical intent was to give Cousins a real-time picture of what would be coming his way nine months later.
"I watched (that game) against Georgia and saw how they worked Kirk in there, and have kind of heard that might be the plan for me, so that kind of goes in your preparation," Maxwell said. "But it's the same way you've got to prepare every game. It always might be a situation that you get put in for a series, or it might be a situation like in last year's Capital One Bowl when Kirk couldn't go anymore and I had to be the guy for the rest of the game."
Except, neither one was on the field for the final whistle. Both Cousins and Maxwell were knocked out of last season's bowl game against Alabama and converted wide receiver Keith Nichol completed the game behind center.
Maxwell completed 2-of-6 passes for 43 yards against the Crimson Tide. In four games so far this season, he has completed 18 of 26 (69.2 percent) for 171 yards, one touchdown and no interceptions. Career-wise, he's 29-of-51 (.569) for 294 yards, one touchdown and no interceptions.
"It'd be outstanding to get him some work," Roushar said before Friday's practice at Jesuit High School. "But, our ultimate objective is to win, so Kirk will go and if a situation presents itself, we may get a series or two out of Andrew."
Although Maxwell will go into spring practice as Cousins' heir apparent, Warner expects Connor Cook (6-4, 200), a freshman from Hinckley (Ohio) Walsh Jesuit, to push him. Regardless, Maxwell will be MSU's only quarterback with game-action under his belt, and he could get a little more against the Bulldogs.
"The experience you need to get is when the game's on the line," Warner said. "That's when you get the most out of it and that's what our plan is. When you get that many practices, as we've had for this game, he's repped everything just as Kirk has.
"There's no difference in play-calling depending on who we have in there."
However, if Maxwell goes in when the outcome is still in question, he'll have to operate at a speed commensurate to that of the nation's No. 3 ranked defense.
"Georgia has athletes all over the field," Maxwell said. "What better test of where I'm at as a quarterback and we're at as a team than to go out there and compete against an SEC defense like Georgia's."
Maxwell has been getting ready for this opportunity by studying Cousins closely, both on and off the field, for two years.
"Observing Kirk from a distance, he's got a lot of demands on his time, he's got a lot of stuff he's gotta do, he's got a lot of people who want a piece of Kirk," Maxwell said. "Nothing ever overwhelms Kirk. Whatever he has to do, it might be a burden, but he doesn't let it affect him and he always comes to practice and is able to be our leader.
"What I can learn from that is, at times things might get stressful and overwhelming, but that shouldn't affect the attitude you bring to practice and have around the players."
Cousins will leave as MSU's all-time winningest quarterback and with records that could stand for a long time. Maxwell knows he has a tough act to follow but isn't daunted.
"He's done some great things on the field and off the field, and he's well-known for his leadership abilities," Maxwell said. "But leadership and the way you relate to people is something, hopefully, I've been building from the day I got on campus so when I become the starting quarterback, I won't have to morph into this guy I'm not.
"With the amount of success we've been having, it adds a little more excitement to be really a part of it. It's something I've been waiting for; it's something I'm ready for. I'd like to have a new bowl experience to erase the one from last year."
NOTES & QUOTES: Defensive coordinator Pat Narduzzi confirmed Friday that he interviewed for the head-coaching job at Akron, but withdrew his name from consideration.
It was a tough decision "from the standpoint that you may never interview for another head-coaching job," he said. "I talked to my wife (Donna) afterward and said, `Understand this, there may never be another head-coaching interview ever again.' You never know.
"But it wasn't tough to stay at Michigan State. Not at all. It was an easy decision that way. It's got to be right in every respect, and if there's any doubts in your mind I don't think ... . I'm real fortunate. I love Michigan State."
Narduzzi has counseled junior defensive tackle Jerel Worthy to leave MSU a year early for the NFL under the right conditions, but return and make an even bigger name for himself nationally if he's not projected as a first-round draft choice.
"If he's a first-rounder and can sign a $10 million bonus, I am going to walk him to where he needs to be walked because it's great for him and it's great for Michigan State to have a top-15, top-10 pick," Narduzzi said. "And if he doesn't become a first-rounder, it's bad for him and that's what I don't want."
According to Narduzzi, Dantonio advised Worthy to look at the final college seasons of defensive tackles who went in the first round of past drafts to see how he matches up to them.
"Are you playing like those guys are, then you'll be a first-rounder," said Narduzzi, paraphrasing Dantonio. "If you don't think you are, then you better in your own mind know you're that guy.
"I truly believe he could get a lot better next year and win all kinds of awards. He's gotten better every year and is the type of kid that will get better. I don't think there's any doubt he could get better (if he returns), but if he's already there, take the money when he can."
As for junior cornerback Johnny Adams, who told the Lansing State Journal he's also contemplating an early departure, Narduzzi said:
"He needs to focus on this game. He's a good player. I don't know if he's ready to get drafted. We'll find out. He's an All-Big Ten player, so we'd like to have Johnny back. I don't know if he's a first- or second-rounder, and I think he'd be foolish to do that.
"He'll have his day, but he probably needs to stick around for another year, personally."
The Spartans spent Friday afternoon at Clearwater Beach, and the offensive linemen stole the show by cavorting offshore lie a pod of beluga whales.
"This is the best thing we've done on this trip so far," said one lineman as he splashed his way back to the beach.
On Thursday, the players got a lesson in animal behavior when Dantonio arranged for a surprise visit from an alligator.
At Clearwater Beach, seagulls got a lesson in football-player behavior.
Long snapper Steve Moore laid face-down on the sand with pieces of bread on his back with the hope a seagull would grab one while surround by teammates and beachcombers.
For at least 15 minutes, dozens of birds swooped down at him, only to fly off and return repeatedly while assessing the situation. Finally, one daring seagull landed on Moore's back, grabbed the bread and flew off as the crowd went wild with cheers and laughter.
Moore popped up and soaked up the only standing ovation he's likely to get anytime soon.