Michigan State: Five things we learned vs. Central Michigan
Five takeaways from Matt Charboneau of The Detroit News following Michigan State's 31-20 win vs. Central Michigan on Saturday.
From the ground up
After the game, the Spartans were talking like the running game was finally rolling. However, the numbers weren’t exactly great as Michigan State ran for 160 yards with a 3.4 yards-per-carry average. Quarterback Brian Lewerke was effective, but most of his 39 yards came scrambling off of pass plays. When it comes to the running backs, freshman La’Darius Jefferson was the bright spot, gaining 56 yards on 13 carries for an average of 4.3 a carry. He also scored his first career touchdown and seemed to give the Spartans’ running game a bit of a spark. Overall, the running attack was more effective than the last two games, but there’s still plenty of work to do before the Spartans can feel like they play offense the way they like to — by controlling the line of scrimmage and pounding opponents.
While Lewerke continues to be a threat to make plays with his feet by scoring twice, he’s still not where the Spartans would have hoped when it comes to throwing the ball. He entered Saturday’s game completing 66 percent of his passes, but had thrown five interceptions and lost a pair of fumbles. Against Central Michigan, he threw his second interception in the end zone this season and has now turned the ball over seven times in just four games. He’s missing a few of his receivers, and the offensive line has been a work in progress as players have gone in and out, but if the Spartans expect to push for the Big Ten East title they’ll need Lewerke to start playing more like he did last season when he gained more than 3,300 yards and threw 20 touchdown passes.
It usually comes across as an excuse, but the fact is the Spartans are hurting, especially on offense. They entered Saturday’s game against Central Michigan without running back LJ Scott (ankle), wide receiver Darrell Stewart (ankle), right guard Kevin Jarvis (ankle) and wide receiver Jalen Nailor (undisclosed). And late in the first half, wide receiver Cody White suffered a broken hand that will keep him out an indefinite period. The defensive side isn’t quite as bad, but sophomore cornerback Josiah Scott still hasn’t played this season while his replacement, junior Josh Butler, played just a handful of plays Saturday after getting hurt at Indiana. It’s created opportunity for some young players like Jefferson, redshirt freshman guard Blake Bueter and sophomore cornerback Tre Person, but getting back to 100 percent — or close to it — within the next week or two is crucial.
Michigan State’s offense has been up and down through four games but the defense, despite giving up its share of passing yards in the first two games, has proven once again it’s what will carry this team. It’s still nearly impossible for teams to run the ball against the Spartans, who entered Saturday’s game as the top run defense in the nation. They didn’t disappoint against Central Michigan while continuing to put pressure on the quarterback, recording three sacks and getting credited for four quarterback hurries. The margin for error shrinks as each week passes, and with the offense still seeking a complete game, it will be on the defense to set the tone for the Spartans.
Missing the knockout punch
For the second straight game, Michigan State looked like it was about to run away before allowing the opponent to find some life in the fourth quarter and make it a game down the stretch. It’s something that the Spartans can get away with when playing the likes of Indiana and Central Michigan, but as they learned by losing a 10-point lead at Arizona State, it can be too much to overcome against a decent team. That’s all that’s left on the schedule, and when Michigan State opens up a four-touchdown lead like it did Saturday in the victory over Central Michigan, the knockout punch needs to come next. Some of the Chippewas’ rally was thanks to an early onside kick and a trick play; however, those are the things the Spartans need to avoid. The schedule will be tough enough the last three quarters of the season where allowing teams to hang around will not be wise.