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October 17, 2012EAST LANSING - Andrew Maxwell is coming off his worst game of the season, statistically. And now he is heading to Michigan Stadium, which will stage the toughest environment he has ever faced.
How can Spartan coaches prepare him for it?
"I don't know if you can, really, from a pressure standpoint, from a noise standpoint, it is going to be something he has not been through," said Michigan State quarterbacks coach Dave Warner. "But he has played Ohio State, he has played Notre Dame and he was out there against (Alabama) a couple of years ago, so he has been under the gun. So I think with the seven games of experience he has under his belt right now hopefully he is able to hold up okay."
Maxwell ranks No. 2 in the Big Ten in passing yards per game, at 229. He also has attempted more passes than any QB in the conference. His efficiency has spiked and waned, depending on pass protection and the hands of his receivers. His reads and accuracy have also been spotted with inconsistency.
A week after throwing for 290 yards at Indiana (24 of 40), Maxwell was 12-of-31 for 179 yards with 0 TDs and a tipped INT in overtime in the loss to Iowa.
"Certainly statistically he did not play well (against Iowa) and obviously there are other circumstances that go into that, the weather and the pressure and so forth," Warner said. "But he wasn't happy with what went down last week and neither were we. But we were not happy as an offense. We have not been happy as an offense. We need to play better as an offense. We need to coach better as an offense."
Maxwell was sacked twice by Iowa. One was the result of a missed pass protection block by fullback Trevon Pendleton. The other was on Maxwell for holding the ball too long.
Freshman left guard Jack Allen was beaten on consecutive plays late in the game for a pair of hits on Maxwell.
Coaches have worked with Maxwell to improve his downfield reads, and ability to read the entire field.
"I think it's coming along," Warner said. "As we evaluate what we have done well throughout seven games and what we haven't done well, sometimes you get a little bit of false impression with what you've done well last year and that's where we have sort of looked at ourselves and we are trying to focus on what we have done well this year in our pass game and do certain things.
"Andrew has done a good job of progressing in his reads and making good decisions and other things where maybe he skipped over a read. But he's done good. He has done good and like everybody he is certainly at a place where he can continue to get better."
Michigan State ranks No. 3 in the Big Ten in passing yards per game, but No. 11 in pass efficiency.
"Certainly our pass game has not been what we expected it to be, and that's from an overall standpoint," Warner said. "As you know, the protection comes into play, and the receivers running good routes and catching the ball, and the quarterback putting the ball on the spot. I can't emphasize the team aspect enough when you look at the struggles we have had offensively.
"I guess we're making progress but not quite enough. First and foremost we have to look at us offensively and evaluate what's been good for us and what has not been good for us, and make changes from there.
"We have talent. We have had our bumps in the road, but that's part of football and we have to overcome it, bottom line. We're going to hang in there and keep working."
Michigan State is 2-0 in road games this year, with victories over Indiana and Central Michigan. Those are two of the weakest teams on the schedule, but when figuring Maxwell's 322-yard performance at CMU, he is averaging 25-of-38 for 306 in his two road games thus far this season.
But those type of sparkling numbers will be harder to achieve against Michigan, which ranks No. 3 in the Big Ten in pass efficiency defense.
Warner says Michigan has improved defensively over last year.
"They have guys that were sort of feeling there way, perhaps, last year that are now understanding the scheme, knowing what to do and doing it faster," Warner said. "That's what defense is: knowing what to do, and if you know what to do, do it fast. And I see that now from these guys."
Michigan ranks No. 11 in the Big Ten in sacks with 8, just ahead of No. 12 Michigan State (6 sacks).
Despite their low sack figures, Michigan is accustomed to bringing pressure from all angles.
"We anticipate Michigan to put more pressure on us, whether that incorporates man coverage or not, we're going to find out," Warner said. "But I think they are going to come after us and try to force us to get the ball out of our hands."