Few quarterbacks are as experienced -- or as polished as public speakers -- as Michigan State's Kirk Cousins. The third-year starter helped the Spartans win a share of the Big Ten title last season and has led them to a 2-0 start this season with two excellent performances.
With Saturday's game at Notre Dame looming, ESPN.com recently caught up with Cousins for our Friday Q&A:
You're completing about 80 percent of your passes so far in the first two games. What's going right in the passing game?
Kirk Cousins: We've had opportunities to throw the ball on first down, and I think my coaches have put me in good situations. We talked all offseason about the talent we have at the receiver position and at the tight end position, and the running back position as well is getting involved in the passing game. So when you have that much talent to spread the ball to, and your coaches are calling and designing plays to put you in a good situation, it makes my job much easier to go out there and complete passes. Ultimately, that's my job, and I let the rest of the team do the rest of their jobs.
The offensive line has replaced three starters and had its ups and downs in Week 1. How do you see those guys developing?
KC: I believe game experience is very valuable, and that's what the offensive line has been able to get. They've been able to get in a game, get that game experience and then get coached up on the film. So I think the more and more experience they get in a true game feel, it's going to help them improve. I think they're playing at a high level right now, and they're doing a great job preparing themselves and working hard in practice. That's all we can ask.
The team's opener against Youngstown State was a little sloppy, but things seemed dramatically better last week against Florida Atlantic. How much improvement did you see from Week 1 to Week 2?
KC: I think, overall, the only thing that was a little unsettling the first week was just unforced errors -- false starts, a couple miscues here and there. But really our execution of the plays, the understanding of our offense and doing what we were coached to do was for the most part pretty solid. The time of possession wasn't in our favor the first game and that affected us as well. But as an offense, I felt like were were going to have a much better Week 2 as long as we cleaned up some of those unforced errors, and that's exactly what we did. And the defense played about as dominating a performance as you can play, and that made our job on offense much easier. As a result, when you have the ball as often we did, we were able to get into a rhythm very easily and keep that rhythm going through the game.
Yeah, the defense only allowed one first down. Did you ever say, hey guys, stay on the field a little longer, because the offense is tired?
KC: We always talk about as an offense the importance of staying on the field, if for nothing else to let our defense rest. It's nice when that happens because not only can you establish a rhythm, it helps our defense play that much more effectively when they are out on the field. So it becomes a two-headed monster -- the defense gets off the field and the offense keeps them off the field.
You're going to Notre Dame this week. What does this game and this series mean to you?
KC: I think it's a very special rivalry. If you look at the past games, over the last 10 to 15 years, just about every game has gone down to the last few minutes and it's been very close year in and year out, and some have even gone to overtime. So when you look at rivalries, that's a special part of it. I think the tradition of the programs dating back to the game in '66 just adds to the rivalry and enhances it. So many great players have come through and made great plays in this game. As players, when you can add to that tradition and that rivalry, it's a special opportunity and one we want to take advantage of.
Two years ago, you threw an interception at the end of the game in a loss. Do you feel like this is an opportunity to atone for that, or did you already accomplish that by winning last season at home?
KC: I think every year is its own new year. It's a new season, a new team, a new situation. I've learned from different mistakes I've made in my career. In 2009, I certainly made an error that hurt us in that game. But I'm going into this with a clean slate. I hope to have a productive game and do all I can on my end to help our team win.
The Irish are 0-2. How do you look at that -- like they'll be desperate this week or like perhaps their confidence is shaken?
KC: Being Notre Dame, I think they come loaded for bear every Saturday. They're a team that's in the national spotlight week in, week out no matter how they're playing. And I think, aside from turnovers, they have played very good football. They have a talented defense, and their offense is very explosive and I think they provide a great challenge. Without those turnovers, they probably would have won going away both games they played. So I think they're probably one of the best 0-2 teams in the country, if not the best As a result, we need to go in not concerned about Notre Dame's record, but be concerned about ourselves and be ready to execute at a high level.
This is the first of many tough road games you'll have this season. How much of a gauge will this one be for you guys?
KC: We've addressed the fact that this season we have to be willing to embrace the hostility we will face on the road. We have to have an attitude that embraces that and takes that on and is able to handle that. And obviously this is our first test on the road and it will not be an easy one. That's our emphasis all season. The ability to play on the road will ultimately define our season. So it's important to us play at a high level on the road, and that starts this week.
B.J. Cunningham set the school's all-time receiving record early in last week's game with a pretty spectacular catch. What was that moment like for you?
KC: In the moment of the play, I wasn't thinking about the record, and even after the play I didn't think about the record. I was just glad we got the first down and we were able to keep the drive alive. Then when the crowd got much louder for a simple catch, I realized there was something more to it. It was great to see him do that, and he went on to have a great rest of the day. The catch was a tremendous catch, and one that he has made many, many times in his career here at Michigan State in practice and in games. I hope he continues to have a tremendous season and that I can be a part of the success he has.
Your speech at the Big Ten kickoff luncheon in Chicago this summer has gotten a tremendous amount of attention. How much have you heard about that?
KC: I've gotten a lot of feedback -- emails, calls, text messages from people who want to encourage me and tell me I did a nice job. And I appreciate the people that did that. A lot of family friends and even people my family had lost touch with saw the speech and through that, got back in touch with my parents and myself. It was a surprising response; I wasn't expecting quite the response I got. It was exciting, and I'm glad I got the opportunity to speak. I tried to make the most of it.
How long did you work on that speech?
KC: I sat down and talked with my dad and [Michigan State sports information director] John Lewandowski, and both of them really emphasized the focus as being on the privilege of playing college athletics. So I went from there and focused on the privilege aspect. I probably got started on it about three weeks in advance. The Big Ten had a conference call with me to see what to expect from the talk. That got the wheels going, then I was making adjustments to the talk all the way up until the night before at the hotel -- I was trying to find a printer to print out my final adjustments. So it was about a three-week project that I put some thought into, and I was able to punch it out just in time to deliver it.
The speech was a reminder of the positive things in college sports. Was that your goal, given all the bad news we saw this offseason?
KC: I think the offseason we had this year has brought to light a lot of issues in college athletics, and I just wanted to focus on essentially my feelings. I felt that my heart and my feelings about the opportunity I've been given from Michigan State really reflects what the majority of student-athletes across the country would feel. I wanted to simply speak from my perspective, but I believed it was a perspective shared by many student-athletes. I didn't know what the response would be, but obviously it was in a very positive direction.