Coming off an impressive sophomore season, Brian Lewerke wanted to work on one thing primarily in the off-season: accuracy.
In his first season as Michigan State’s starting quarterback, Lewerke proved he could be a playmaker, amassing nearly 3,400 yards in total offense by mixing in more than 500 yards of rushing with five touchdowns. However, after completing only 59 percent of his passes (246-for-417) in 2017, it was clear he needed to take a step forward in that department.
Through two games, the extra work appears to be paying off as Lewerke has completed 69.4 percent of his passes (50-for-72) for 601 yards and three touchdowns. That sort of jump has drawn the attention of Indiana, this week’s opponent in the Big Ten opener.
Add in the weapons Lewerke has at his disposal and the Hoosiers (3-0) know where their defensive focus must be when the teams meet at 7:30 p.m. Saturday at Memorial Stadium in Bloomington.
“I tell you what, that's what makes it hard. He's an accurate passer,” Indiana coach Tom Allen said. “They got big receivers that can be matchup problems. He's athletic enough to beat you with his legs. He's tough enough to run over you. That's kind of always a big challenge with a big quarterback like that because the rules are such to protect him. He comes barreling at you, runs you over, instead of sliding sometimes.
“I think he's a tough old guy that loves to play the game. He's kind of my kind of guy playing quarterback, to be honest with you. I have a lot of respect for him, how hard and tough he plays.”
That toughness was on display when the teams met last season at Spartan Stadium.
With Indiana leading, 9-3, in the fourth quarter, Lewerke orchestrated back-to-back touchdown drives to give the Spartans the 17-9 victory. The go-ahead score came on a 10-yard pass from Lewerke to Felton Davis while on the final scoring drive, Lewerke hit Cody White for 34 yards on third-and-10 to set up LJ Scott’s 18-yard touchdown run.
The win moved Michigan State to 6-1 on the season and had the Spartans in the thick of the Big Ten East race. As far as Allen is concerned, that was because of Lewerke’s play.
“When he really started figuring things out, playing really well last year, that's when they took off,” Allen said. “That's how it is at that position. That position really is about leadership and production. He's really good at doing both. You can just tell they believe in him. I think that's kind of the difference. The year that we were able to — my first year here when we beat them in overtime — I don't think they had the kind of quarterback play they probably were looking for. It was early in the season, just like it is now, but they didn't have that established guy there. They were trying to figure that out.”
It’s certainly figured out now for No. 24 Michigan State (1-1) as it comes off its bye week following the loss to Arizona State. Lewerke will be counted on once again and he’ll need to do a better job of taking care of the ball after critical interceptions in each of the first two games.
And with Indiana unbeaten and riding a wave of confidence, the trip will be no walk in the park for the Spartans.
The Hoosiers understand it won’t be for them, either.
“We got to play great defense,” Allen said. “We're still developing and growing. They have big old backs, big receivers, really good quarterback, big old offensive line. They're a bonafide, legit Big Ten football team that's contending for the Big Ten championship.
“We are going to have to play our best game of the season, have our best week of preparation, execute at the highest level in all three phases.”