Michigan State quarterback Andrew Maxwell took his lumps early in the year as the Spartans struggled to a 4-3 record, but defensive coordinator John Papuchis said the first-year starter is improving rapidly.
“He’s a talented a player,” Papuchis said. “It’s not easy in your first year when you’re getting all the reps and all the starts. There’s a learning curve. You can see his progress through the year, he continues to get better, and I think he’s going to be a good player.”
Maxwell comes into the game completing 55.9 percent of his passes, but has topped 60 percent in three of his last four games. Against Wisconsin last week, Maxwell had touchdown passes in the fourth quarter and overtime to lead the Spartans to the win. Maxwell has also done a good job of distributing the football to his full complement of receivers. That’s been a focus for the Huskers this week.
“The thing that jumps out to me is the balance in distribution,” Papuchis said. “They have five different guys who have between 22 and 32 catches. A year ago (B.J.) Cunningham was kind of their guy. We knew we had to stop him going into the game. This year they’re a lot more evenly distributed across the board and that makes it a little more difficult to defend.”
Last year Nebraska ended Cunningham’s streak of 41 consecutive games with a catch and flummoxed future NFL draft pick Kirk Cousins into an 11-for-27 day passing. Papuchis said he doesn’t expect last year’s success to bring major changes for the Spartans this year.
“They obviously have the things that they believe in and they’re not going to stray too far from those beliefs,” Papuchis said. “I expect to see some different route combinations, some different formations, those type of things, but that’s every week.”
That game earned the Huskers’ defense their Blackshirts. This year, the coaches handed them out a week earlier, but, in a departure from previous seasons, they only gave out 11. That number could go up with another good performance on Saturday.
“Every year is a little bit different,” Papuchis said. “This year we looked at the guys who have really defined their roles and those were the guys who got the shirts.Guys who were either in a platoon role or only a situational player, we haven’t gone forward with giving them a shirt yet but they can certainly earn one. I hope to add a couple this week.”