Michigan State: Five things we learned

Matt Charboneau
The Detroit News

Quarterback position unclear: The Spartans made a change at quarterback but it didn’t make things any clearer at that position. Redshirt freshman Brian Lewerke had a fast start which included a 15-yard touchdown pass to tight end Josiah Price, but there were few highlights from there. With the offense stuck in neutral midway through the third quarter, Dantonio went to Tyler O’Connor, who threw three touchdown passes and engineered a mini-rally. Dantonio said after the game both Lewerke and O’Connor played well in stretches and that Lewerke probably deserved more playing time. What happens next remains to be seen, but Dantonio did emphasize he won’t play the younger player just because of the overall record.

Offensive line still struggling: The offensive line didn’t play well once again and it’s probably the biggest reason the Spartans continue to lack any consistency on offense. Michigan State managed to rush for just 51 yards and its quarterbacks were sacked four times and hurried five more. The Spartans are playing their share of young players — redshirt freshman Tyler Higby started at left guard for the second straight game and true freshman Thiyo Lukusa saw some action. The unit’s growing pains are hurting Michigan State right now, and there’s no quick and easy answer to getting it fixed.

No one grabbing running back position: Michigan State started the season with one clear starter at tailback with intentions to regularly use just two from week-to-week. That plan has clearly gone out the window the last couple of weeks as LJ Scott — the original starter — Gerald Holmes and Madre London are all getting carries. Against Northwestern, that wasn’t many as Holmes carried five times while Scott and London had three each. The problems in the running game are still primarily in the offensive line.

Defensive line has problems: The defensive line continues to be unable to put any kind of pressure on the quarterback and it is affecting the entire defense. Michigan State recorded its first sack in three games but much of the pressure came from multiple blitzes the Spartans employed, which put pressure on the back end that hasn’t been up to the challenge this season. Northwestern converted 10 of 19 third-down chances and it was accentuated as the run defense also took a nosedive (290 rushing yards allowed).

Nothing special from special teams: Special teams have been below average all season and they played their part in a loss once again. Punter Jake Hartbarger did manage a 61-yard punt late in the first half but consistency continues to elude him. Things aren’t much better on the other end as punt returning is a non-factor. Sophomore Brandon Sowards still lets too many punts hit the ground. And the biggest play of the game might have been Northwestern’s momentum-swinging 95-yard kickoff return for a touchdown in the third quarter.