East Lansing — One week in, there’s a better idea of what we’re dealing with when it comes to Michigan State football.
The season-opening win was hardly flashy, but was exactly what the Spartans needed to kick off the season in positive fashion. Western Michigan is up next, and the Broncos come to town fully expecting to win.
In this week’s mailbag, we tackle some of the takeaways from the opener and things to keep an eye on, including the backup quarterback spot and whether Michigan State can slow the Western Michigan running game.
■ Question: Thoughts on backup QB spot? — @MaxRothley
■ Answer: The clearest thought is Michigan State better do whatever possible to keep Brian Lewerke healthy. I’m with Mark Dantonio in his assessment that Damion Terry is better than the way he played in his limited time last week against Bowling Green, but five years in, let’s be honest: Terry is nothing more than a stopgap. If Lewerke were to miss significant time, can Terry lead Michigan State to wins? That’s debatable, at best. Sure, injuries have hampered him his entire career, but he doesn’t exactly instill a ton of confidence if the Spartans need to test the quarterback depth.
That brings us to redshirt freshman Messiah deWeaver. He didn’t play on Saturday for what is being called a minor injury. That’s not an encouraging sign for a player who missed most of the spring because of back issues, and hasn’t moved past Terry on the depth chart. He was a highly touted recruit who enrolled early, but now in his second year, there has been no evidence deWeaver would be ready if he was needed.
That leaves freshman Rocky Lombardi. The talk has been encouraging, and Mark Dantonio said again this week that Lombardi is further along than any freshman they’ve had. Could he find himself in the mix if Lewerke were to suffer a significant injury? Maybe. Again, the best option for the MSU right now is they won’t need a backup anytime soon.
■ Q: What was your best takeaway from last week’s performance? — @benjamin_jimbo1
■ A: I’m gonna say the play of the wide receivers. There were several to like, including the way Lewerke settled in after a slow start, as well as the secondary tightening up after some first-quarter problems. But it was no secret entering the season that the Spartans were looking for playmakers in a young receiving corps and based on the win over Bowling Green, it looks like there’s any number of guys who could step into that role.
Felton Davis proved to be the red-zone threat many believed he could be, and made a great one-handed catch on his second touchdown. Darrell Stewart provided a burst after the catch and a tough running style that will make him a threat to turn any catch into a big play. Trishton Jackson didn’t have any big plays, but he always seems on the verge of a game-changer while the youth showed well, too.
Redshirt freshman Cam Chambers had a nice run after his one catch while freshmen Hunter Rison, Cody White and Laress Nelson each had a catch. They’ll surely get more work as the season goes, and now a positon that was a question mark looks like it has plenty of depth.
■ Q: Lots of opportunities for true/redshirt freshmen this year. Selling point for recruits or roadblocks for early playing time in future? — @Ckiev
■ A: I’m gonna say, for the most part, it’s a selling point. The reason is every recruit believes they will play right away. That’s not a bad thing. Being confident is good, and it is typically not lacking in young players. So, when they see a team that’s willing to play freshmen, they often see that as a good thing. That’s not to say there aren’t specific cases where a player won’t commit because of who else is there, but that seems to happen more within a class. For example, a running back will go somewhere else if another back already has committed.
■ Q: WMU put up 263 rushing yards at USC. Do the Spartans keep WMU below that number? —@Adam_Burke
■ A: I think Michigan State will hold Western Michigan to fewer than 263 yards. For one thing, that’s a pretty low bar. Even last year’s team that finished ninth in the Big Ten in rushing defense failed to give up that much in a game — though BYU came pretty close with 260. So, you’ve got to be playing poorly to allow that many yards.
But the other reason is I believe run defense will be a strength for the Spartans. Putting pressure on the passer and consistently being solid in coverage might be another story, but with the likes of Raequan Williams and Mike Panasiuk in the middle and with the emergence of middle linebacker Joe Bachie, Michigan State should be stout against the run. So yes, Western will get its share of yards and might break a big play or two, but I don’t think you’ll seen anything outrageous.