East Lansing — Taking care of the football.
It was hammered home all week for Michigan State, to some more than others.
And after Michigan State gift-wrapped 21 points for Notre Dame last week with three turnovers, its focus on protecting the ball paid off in Saturday’s 17-10 victory over Iowa at Spartan Stadium.
“Obviously, it’s very important to hold onto the football,” co-offensive coordinator Dave Warner said. “If you’ve been watching us the past three weeks, we’ve obviously put the ball on the ground. Holding onto it today was big; it was a key. Especially when you’re in a battle like we were today. Our defense was playing great. We were playing against a great defense ourselves. We moved the ball a little bit the first half, not obviously as much as the second half, but just holding onto the football is always key.”
Michigan State didn’t have a turnover on Saturday, its only fumble recovered by tight end Matt Sokol, who lost the handle on a run near the goal line in the first half.
“Yeah, that’s huge,” said Sokol, who was kicking himself for his blunder. “You know last week, it’s hard to win a game when the turnover margin is in their favor by that much. Turnovers are huge in every game we’re going to be playing and it’s something that we have to emphasize in every game going forward.”
LJ Scott, who had fumbled three times in the first three games and spent much of this week carrying a football around the football facilities, carried 14 times without a mistake and quarterback Brian Lewerke, who lost a fumble last week and threw an interception for a touchdown, didn’t give the ball away against the Hawkeyes.
His decision-making drew plenty of scrutiny following the Notre Dame loss, but he was much more sure with the ball on Saturday.
“I think I made good decisions, when to throw the ball, when to force and when to not,” Lewerke said. “Obviously, we have no turnovers today, so it was a big plus. Our defense did a great job of getting the ball out of Iowa’s hand., I think we’re plus-two in the turnover margins when that happens, you know, that’s a recipe for success.”
The key for Lewerke and the offense is continuing to value the ball heading into next week’s game at Michigan.
“He’s a competitor and he knows that he made some bad decisions last week, and he emphasized it this week,” co-offensive coordinator Dave Warner said of Lewerke. “Not that we haven’t before, but that was a big thing for him this week. He took a big step. I told him that after the game, I think he took a big step forward today as far as being the quarterback that we need him to be. We just need him to keep going in that direction.”
Michigan State entered the game 125th in the nation in turnover margin, and as good as the offense was at protecting the ball on Saturday, the defense was as good as taking it away.
The Spartans forced a fumble deep in their own end in the third quarter with linebacker Joe Bachie coming up with the loose ball and later in the quarter, cornerback Josiah Scott forced a second fumble that was recovered by linebacker Chris Frey.
“The plus-two turnovers really were huge because not only that, it took points off the board, really, especially the first one,” Michigan State coach Mark Dantonio said. “I thought we got pressure on the quarterback. He got out a couple times, but we got pressure on him.”