Michigan State: Five things we learned vs. Michigan
Five takeaways from Matt Charboneau of The Detroit News following Michigan State's 21-7 loss to Michigan on Saturday.
Trouble with the snaps
Brian Lewerke looked off Saturday and it turns out the Michigan defense was only part of the reason. Lewerke said he injured his right shoulder last week at Penn State and that playing against the Wolverines was a “game-time decision.” The injury was enough to limit, to some extent, Lewerke in practice this week and considering he was 5-for-25 vs. Michigan, it’s clear he was not 100 percent. The injury comes as the junior is in the midst of a difficult season that began with dark-horse Heisman talk but has degenerated into frustration. Much of that covers the entire offense, but Lewerke has played a significant role with seven interceptions and a completion percentage below 60 percent.
Losing senior receiver Felton Davis to a ruptured Achilles doesn’t help the offense and Cody White won’t be back anytime soon as he recovers from a broken hand. If Lewerke isn’t 100 percent, the question is should Michigan State turn to redshirt freshman Rocky Lombardi next week? It doesn’t sound like they will as coach Mark Dantonio said there is no quarterback controversy but getting Lewerke healthy might take precedence.
As Felton Davis crumbled to the turf Saturday, the Spartans watched another playmaker exit the lineup. The offense has been woefully short on difference-makers for much of the season as receivers Cody White, Darrell Stewart and Jalen Nailor have all missed considerable playing time, as has running back LJ Scott, who came back this week after missing four games. Moving forward, figuring out who can make things happen on offense will be a challenge. Stewart is close to healthy now and Nailor at least dressed this week, but the receiving ranks remain thin.
Whether Scott makes much of an impact is tough to predict, so expect to see a lot of Connor Heyward and La’Darius Jefferson over the final few weeks. Also, keep an eye on junior Justin Layne. The cornerback played a couple of offensive snaps at wide receiver on Saturday and that could grow. He came to Michigan State as a receiver and saw his first action on offense two seasons ago before making the switch to defense.
Last week, the offensive line was feeling pretty good about itself for the first time all season. Even with injuries, it seemed like a cohesive unit for the first time. So much for that as the Spartans managed just 94 total yards against Michigan and only 15 on the ground. Sophomore center Matt Allen was the latest to suffer an injury, but the shuffling had already begun.
Sophomore guard Kevin Jarvis was back after missing three games with an ankle injury and took over on the left side, moving junior Tyler Higby out to left tackle as junior Cole Chewins took a seat. Sophomore Luke Campbell took over at right guard for Blake Bueter early in the game, but Bueter came back to play center when Allen went down. The only constant was sophomore Jordan Reid at right tackle.
It’s been the same story all season on the offensive line as Michigan State has been far from 100 percent but hasn’t played well regardless of who has been in the rotation. How much of that has led to Lewerke’s struggles is debatable but it hasn’t helped.
The defense is on its own with this Spartans team and it did its best against Michigan, holding the Wolverines in check for much of the game and helping set up the Spartans’ only touchdown by forcing a fumble inside the Michigan 10. But being on the field for more than 41 minutes is a nearly impossible task for any team and by the fourth quarter the Spartans were worn out. The players and coaches insist there will be no division and the defense will keep playing hard, but it’s difficult to believe the defense isn’t getting frustrated.
They’re playing well enough for Michigan State to be undefeated but in each of the three losses, it’s the offense that hasn’t gotten the job done. The Spartans haven’t been perfect on defense, but they deserve better than what the win-loss record shows.
Still goals ahead
Michigan State entered the season expecting to compete for the Big Ten East and get back to the conference championship game. After the loss to Michigan on Saturday, those goals almost certainly need to be altered. It doesn’t mean the season has to crumble but a championship likely isn’t coming for a team that started with plenty of optimism and returning starters but has been devastated by injuries for much of the season and could never find a rhythm. A good bowl game is still possible and there’s also the potential possibility of playing spoiler in some sense with Ohio State coming to Spartan Stadium in a couple weeks. On top of that, build some momentum for next season as Michigan State will once again have plenty of players coming back.