Questions are plenty, answers scarce with Spartans QB picture
East Lansing — Brian Lewerke had one of his worst games as Michigan State’s quarterback last week. That much is perfectly clear.
How can’t it be when the junior signal-caller was just 5-for-25 for 66 yards while the offense managed just 94 total yards and scored its only touchdown in a 21-7 loss to Michigan thanks to the defense creating a turnover inside the Wolverines’ 10-yard line?
The bigger question after the game was why? It hasn’t been a great season for Lewerke, but he was especially off against Michigan, missing plenty of open receivers by a wide margin. After the game, coach Mark Dantonio said Lewerke did not practice all week because he was “dinged up.” That was after co-offensive coordinator Dave Warner said Lewerke did practice.
What did Lewerke say?
“I think Coach D said I didn’t practice,” said Lewerke, who did confirm the issue was with a shoulder suffered the week before at Penn State.
It appears the confusion came because Lewerke took part in practice but didn’t throw the ball much, if at all. Combined with Michigan State’s desire to keep most injuries quiet and it led to the confusion in the postgame last weekend.
With that loss in the rearview mirror, the attention now turns to whether Lewerke will be healthy enough this week when Purdue comes to Spartan Stadium for a noon kickoff on Saturday. That seems to be just as much of a mystery.
“I don’t really want to talk about the arm right now,” Lewerke said after practice on Tuesday.
When asked how practice went on Tuesday, Lewerke said, “I don’t want to talk about that.”
And when questioned on how many reps he took with the No. 1 offense?
“I don’t want to talk about that, either,” Lewerke said.
To be clear, neither Lewerke nor Dantonio is pinning all the problems of last week on Lewerke’s shoulder. Both thought he threw the ball hard enough, but as Lewerke put it, “For some reason the ball wasn’t going where I wanted it to go.”
That leads to this week's question. Dantonio said redshirt freshman Rocky Lombardi, who played the final series against Michigan, took the bulk of the No. 1 reps last week along with freshman Theo Day. So, if Lewerke can’t go, odds are Lombardi gets his first start. That will be determined throughout the week.
“Brian has got to be able to practice. That's obviously noticeable from last week's performance,” Dantonio said. “There's a lot of different things going into this, and I think he can be a very effective quarterback, but I do think he's got to practice. I know he feels better than he did last week, so hopefully that'll happen. He did practice (last week), but he wasn't able to throw down the field. I thought he had velocity in the game. I didn't think that was the problem in the game.”
With the arm an issue last week, there was some belief that Lewerke should not have played against Michigan. But Dantonio had confidence in Lewerke enough to leave it up to the Phoenix native.
“Coach D gave me the option,” Lewerke said. “It was Michigan, obviously, and one of our bigger games of the year and I wanted to be out there and contribute as much as I could and what I could.”
But it was clear Lewerke was not 100 percent. So, if the same thing occurs this week when the Spartans are warming up Saturday morning, the decision might be different.
That makes Lombardi’s preparation important. He’d only played three snaps before getting the last series last week and he admitted on Tuesday that possibly getting his first start because Lewerke is hurt is not ideal.
“Yeah, it is a weird situation,” Lombardi said. “Most importantly we want to win, and I think that Brian and I and everyone on this team will do whatever it takes to win, so that’s what it comes down to.”
Lombardi said, like every backup quarterback, he prepares each week to be the starter, so his preparation this week will be much like it has been all season. That said, even the limited work last week helps for the next time he gets on the field.
“Playing quarterback is a very unique position and I feel like you need game reps to really get back in a rhythm and get back to playing the way you’re used to playing,” Lombardi said. “From practice (the game) goes a little bit faster but it’s still the same game. It’s football. Our scout team does a great job giving us looks every week so it’s similar and I know what I’m doing by the time I get out there.”
Day has been getting work, too, and with the new redshirt rules there’s always a chance he could see some playing time, as well. But Dantonio said Lombardi is the first choice if Lewerke can’t go.
“I think Rocky has a bigger foundation, but I think Theo Day is very talented, and if it came to it I think we'd play him in four games,” Dantonio said. “I don't think we'd play him in five or six, I guess five, but we'd play him in four games. As I said before, we're going to play to win, but I think we have a pretty good feel who knows what right now and who can do what right now. We just have to allow it to take shape.”