East Lansing — The Michigan State offense has struggled all season, but its performance on Saturday against Michigan was as bad as it has been under coach Mark Dantonio.
Facing the No. 2 defense in the nation, the Spartans managed just 94 total yards and were 0-for-12 on third down. The only touchdown Michigan State scored in the 21-7 defeat came when Michigan fumbled the ball inside its own 10 and Michigan State took over at the 7. The 94 total yards were the fewest in Dantonio’s tenure as Michigan State coach, which began in 2007.
“Pretty much we had opportunities, but we've got to make good on every opportunity,” Dantonio said. “Not enough production offensively. When you look at possession time, you'll see it's highly one-sided. You have to credit the Michigan defense; they did an outstanding job.”
That possession time was lopsided as Michigan held the ball for 41:03 to just 18:57 for Michigan State. The Spartans ran just 51 offensive plays while getting 11 first downs. They ran for only 15 yards, even with the return of senior running back LJ Scott.
Quarterback Brian Lewerke had one of his worst games, completing 5 of 25 passes for 66 yards. The only time he performed as poorly was against Maryland last season when he was 2-for-14 in an MSU victory.
“Tough day for us offensively, Brian included,” co-offensive coordinator Dave Warner said. “It's not on Brian. He certainly did not have his best day, but we did not have our best day offensively, so it doesn't all come down on him.”
It appears there was a reason — beyond Michigan’s defense — that Lewerke struggled so much. He said he hurt his right shoulder last week at Penn State and that playing on Saturday against Michigan was a “game-time decision.”
Dantonio said Lewerke did not practice all week while Warner indicated he did. When asked, Lewerke was just as unclear.
Michigan State quarterback Brian Lewerke talks about playing through an ailing shoulder in Saturday's 21-7 loss to Michigan. Matt Charboneau, The Detroit News
“I think Coach D said I did not practice at all,” Lewerke said.
How much he did or did not practice, it was clear Lewerke was off as he missed receivers by a wide margin throughout the game. Dantonio stuck with Lewerke until the final drive of the game when redshirt freshman Rocky Lombardi came on and went 1-for-2 for nine yards.
“I don't know whether he was off or whether he was dinged up or what, but we're disappointed,” Dantonio said. “He's played well for us and we'll give him the opportunity to continue to play. He had never asked to come out, so I didn't want to pull him. Eventually the last series we did something, but basically we went down the field on penalties to give us that opportunity.”
Moving forward, it’s hard to say what Lewerke’s status will be. He said on Saturday he played because it was against Michigan. Whether that’s the case against Purdue next week remains to be seen, but Dantonio made it clear he sees no question as to who the No. 1 quarterback is.
“Brian's our quarterback. Brian's our quarterback and you know we'll evaluate that as we go, but he's our quarterback,” Dantonio said. “There's no quarterback issue or anything like that. He's been very successful here, and there's a lot of things to go through you know.
“But there's no quarterback controversy … As bad as it looks on a piece of paper, we had an opportunity to win the football game, so our goal is to win and that's what we'll challenge with. That's what we'll do, and our focus will be on next week against Purdue. We've always tried to evaluate ourselves on how you play after a big loss and how you play after a big win. That's the mindset on how you respond, so that's what we'll continue to do. We'll respond.”