EAST LANSING, Mich. (AP) — Mark Dantonio could have his third quarterback rotation in as many games with Michigan State freshman Damion Terry officially in the mix for Saturday's game against Youngstown State.
Terry is expected to get the second-most repetitions at practice, behind second-game starter Connor Cook, as the Spartans (2-0) try to find answers for an offense that has scored just two touchdowns, half the output of their dominating defense.
"We have to make sure he's ready to play, and we have to allow him to develop," Dantonio said of Terry, a 6-foot-3, 222-pound dual threat from Erie, Pa. "I'm willing to do that because of what I saw out at practice and what I see, inconsistently, in his ability to run, his ability to throw and his poise in the pocket. We have to see where he is, and the only way to do that is to practice him (with the first team)."
If Terry is solid the next three days, he should see the field against the Penguins (2-0), a team that has put up 95 points. Dantonio stressed that he won't risk burning a top prospect's redshirt year for one appearance, making the next three days a critical time for a team that needs Cook, Terry, 2012 starter Andrew Maxwell or redshirt-freshman Tyler O'Connor to emerge.
"If he's not ready to play in a game, we can't take the redshirt off him and ruin his year," Dantonio said. "That wouldn't be fair to him. People need to understand that. If we take the redshirt off, that means he had a great week of practice. It means he's getting ready to play, and we'll go in that direction. But we can't play him one game and not play him again. That's why this situation has to be managed very delicately."
Maxwell, Cook and O'Connor have completed just 29 of 61 passes, 47.5 percent, for 210 yards and zero touchdowns in the nation's worst air attack. They haven't thrown an interception. But none of them has completed more than half his throws, and only one attempt has gone for more than 20 yards, a drag pattern that went for 26.
It's possible that Maxwell could play this week if Michigan State uses three quarterbacks again.
After making 14 starts, he is capable of working without taking the practice reps the other three need. O'Connor seems less likely to get in against Youngstown State after two bad plays in the red zone led to a missed chip-shot field goal in a 21-6 win over South Florida.
Terry might have gotten those snaps if he hadn't been ill and nursing a jammed thumb. This week, the hope is that he will build on a final summer scrimmage that saw him pass for 240 yards and run for 40 more in limited action against the first- and second-team defenses.
Dantonio said he saw positive signs in the rest of his offense last week, with running backs Jeremy Langford, Nick Hill and Riley Bullough combining to match the production Michigan State came to expect from Le'Veon Bell before he joined the Pittsburgh Steelers.
The Spartans have outrushed their opponents 176-50 per game, but Dantonio said a lack of rhythm in the passing game has been the primary problem in producing explosive plays and offensive points.
The defense has done its job and more, allowing just 179.5 yards per game, scoring four TDs and allowing just two. Defensive end Shilique Calhoun has three of those scores, including two against South Florida.