Michigan State is a couple of days from kicking off the season, which means there are plenty of questions about the Spartans.
The Spartans return all but three starters this season and as they prepare to host Utah State on Friday, there is a lot of interest in how much better quarterback Brian Lewerke can get this season, even wondering if he could enter the Heisman race.
In this week’s mailbag we also address the backup quarterback spot and talk a bit about which true freshmen have a chance to make an impact this season.
■ Question: Lewerke Heisman? — @Montie_Sosa
■ Answer: Let’s not get ahead of ourselves. I think it’s a safe bet to say Brian Lewerke will take a step forward this season, but to try and predict him winning the Heisman might be a bit of a reach. That’s not to say he couldn’t have a huge season, but the odds are long. I could see him getting into the discussion, at least, and maybe showing up on some of those “Heisman trackers” at some point during the season, but to do that he’ll need to be a more accurate passer and pick his spots when to take off with the ball.
Lewerke focused on his accuracy the entire off-season and we won’t know how much he’s improved until he gets on the field. But you’d have to guess with his knowledge of the offense and the playmakers at his disposal, the completion percentage will improve and so will the overall numbers. So, a good season is likely, maybe even one that ends up landing him on the All-Big Ten team. But Heisman? I’m not quite ready to go there yet.
■ Q. How do u think Lewerke will do against teams like Mi and OSU? I saw a critical article on him. I’m thinking of staying off social media cause of the mi hype & criticism of MSU. — @Haldane89Tonya
■ A. Well, if those sorts of stories are going to keep you off social media, you might want to log off for good. That said, I’m not sure I’ve seen too much Lewerke criticism out there. Does he get the attention of other quarterbacks in the Big Ten? Probably not, but I haven’t seen a whole lot of stuff out there knocking him. How will he do against Michigan and Ohio State? Well, you’d have to play the odds and say better than last year. Obviously, the conditions in Ann Arbor weren’t conducive to throwing the ball and at Ohio State, things got ugly quickly.
That said, Michigan and Ohio State are two of the top defensive teams in the country, and putting up points won’t be easy. If Lewerke takes care of the ball things likely will go well, especially considering the fact both games will be played at Spartan Stadium.
■ Q. My question would be over/under on the likelihood of seeing Rocky this weekend? — @JakeMatheson4
■ A. There’s no doubt Michigan State would like to get redshirt freshman quarterback Rocky Lombardi some snaps, especially considering the No. 2 signal-caller has yet to take a college snap. But understand this, Mark Dantonio won’t force Lombardi into the game. In other words, if things are tight, don’t expect Lewerke to come out of the game. In a perfect world, the Spartans are ahead comfortably and Lombardi gets some snaps. But Utah State is hardly a pushover, so call it a coin-flip on whether you see Lombardi running the offense.
■ Q. What freshmen will have an impact this year? — @The_Real_Woody
■ A. Don’t expect Michigan State to run out 13 true freshmen like it did in 2017, but that doesn’t mean the Spartans won’t use their share of freshmen, especially taking into account the new redshirt rule that allows players to appear in up to four games without losing the season. As far as making an impact, safety Xavier Henderson should see regular playing time right out of the gate as the primary backup to David Dowell and working in several MSU’s defensive packages. Cornerback Kalon Gervin should also get a shot in a secondary that is as deep as any in the Big Ten. Offensively, the best shot at any significant action is likely in the backfield. There’s no doubt LJ Scott will get the bulk of the carries and Connor Heyward will be in the mix as well, but La’Darius Jefferson and Elijah Collins could compete with redshirt freshman Weston Bridges for a handful of carries.
■ Q. Has Elijah Collins made the team or is he a redshirt? If so is he expected to contribute right away? —@redwingandy1
■ A. Of course, Collins has made the team. Determining a redshirt will take some time. There’s a chance he sees limited action and is shut down before he plays four games to preserves his redshirt, but if he makes an early impact, he could see work all season. It’s essentially the same scenario for Jefferson. But if Heyward and Bridges provide the depth MSU needs behind Scott and there are no injuries, it might be tough for either to find a significant role.
■ Q. Have you seen benefits in the program from adding the extra coach and the team having a Freshman Head Coach? — @FakeMyOpinions
■ A. That’s something that will likely be easier to gauge as the season progresses. The Spartans feel like they’ll benefit from Don Treadwell’s presence not just because he’s in charge of the freshmen, but his familiarity with the program. He’s helping Paul Haynes with the defensive backs, bringing an offensive mind to a defensive room.
■ Q. Is there a metric to follow for us fans to judge the play calling? We all like 2 complain about it sometimes, but we don't know. Is there a tell or something 2 point to to judge a well-called offensive game or no? — @benniesmalls15
■ A. I’m not sure there’s a formula to follow for determining if play calling is effective outside of total yards and points. Let’s be honest, if a team is moving up and down the field and getting in the end zone, the play calling is probably great. But that’s not the same for every team. If you’re Wisconsin with one of the best offensive lines and running backs in the country, are you worried about throwing on first down? Not so much. What I will say is that Michigan State, and many teams, work to achieve balance on offense. Yeah, criticizing the play-calling happens everywhere and that likely won’t change, but trying to put a number to it can be difficult.