MSU mailbag: Will Spartans go with Lewerke or Lombardi vs. Purdue?
East Lansing — After spending a few days pointing fingers and assigning blame for the pregame altercation with Michigan last week, the attention for many Spartan fans has moved back to the field.
There has been plenty of talk this week of the status of quarterback Brian Lewerke, who apparently is playing with a shoulder injury, as well as the overall health of the offense.
And, as it has been all season, there is still plenty of venom in reserve for the coaching staff, enough that has some hoping for some changes in the off-season.
We do our best to tackle these issues and more in this week’s mailbag.
► Question. What are the chances that Lewerke doesn’t start Saturday? — @TriremeXIII
► Answer. That’s a tough one because everyone has been pretty tight-lipped. Mark Dantonio rarely offers much insight into a player’s status unless they’ll be out long-term, and the quarterbacks themselves were just as closed down after practice on Tuesday. Lewerke answered several questions about his shoulder by simply saying, “I don’t want to talk about that.” Meanwhile, backup Rocky Lombardi was doing his best not to offer any hints, either. When he was asked how many reps he took with the No. 1 offense, he laughed, paused, and then said it was roughly the same as he had been. Of course, last week he took the bulk of the No. 1 reps leading up to the Michigan game.
So, that’s a long way of saying it’s a toss-up. I’m sure Lewerke wants to play, and if it’s left up to him — as it was last week — he’ll likely opt to play. If that happens, he could be on a short leash. If he simply isn’t healthy, the Spartans will have no choice but to go with Lombardi.
► Q. What are the chances any significant coaching changes are made after this season? — @mjgoshko
► A. When it comes to Dantonio and his staff my response to these sort of questions has always been to say the chances are slim. Unless a staff member is moving on with what can be seen as a promotion, there just isn’t a track record of making changes for the sake of change outside of, maybe, Ron Burton taking over the defensive line from Ted Gill before the 2013 season.
So, yes, there is plenty of frustration with the staff this season, most of that focused on co-offensive coordinator Dave Warner. But, barring anyone leaving on their own, I’m not sure the staff looks any different in 2019.
► Q. O-fer on third down last week! While wasting 1st down with repeated runs up the middle for no gain it's like playing CFL rules; two downs and punt. Insanity-doing the same things repeatedly and expecting different results. — @DB04369668
► A. This is a standard gripe, that Michigan State runs on every first down and it’s up the middle. Well, here are the numbers from last week: The Spartans ran the ball on first down nine times and threw the ball on first down 11 times. That doesn’t count plays that didn’t count because of penalty, otherwise that was three more first-down passes and one more run. So, no, Michigan State is not running on first down every time. And of the first-down runs, one gained 9 yards, one got 6 and another 5. I’m not sure where that leads to so much consternation over play-calling.
► Q. While Coach D won't use any excuses, have you seen another college team that has been hit with so many injuries? Seems that sooner or later you run out of players. —@NorthShoreRalph
► A. First of all, a college football team with 85 scholarships won’t run out of players, but I get your point. This is my ninth season covering Michigan State and it’s the worst I’ve seen. There were seasons where certain position groups were hit hard — the offensive line in 2012 comes to mind — but nothing on a bigger scale like this. I guess we should have seen the signs when Josiah Scott went down at the beginning of preseason camp. Unfortunately for the Spartans, there is no one out there who feels bad for them. Every team deals with injuries to a certain extent; that’s why there’s always so much talk about depth. Has this season been extreme? Of course, but think back to the three-year run Michigan State had from 2013-15 and the significant injuries were limited.
► Q. What is the new ceiling/floor for this team record wise? My guess is 8 ceiling, 5 floor. Strike that...7 ceiling. Purdue and OSU, no chance. — @redwingsfan2003
► A. About as much optimism as the Red Wings making the playoffs, it seems. Obviously, the ceiling is nine wins, but that means running the table, beating Ohio State along the way. Eight is possible, but seven might be the safer pick at this point. I think this week’s game is critical in determining what direction this season takes. Another loss could lead things to spiraling out of control and leave the Spartans scratching just to become bowl eligible, considering only Rutgers could be considered a likely victory. If some guys start coming back — Josiah Scott could see the field this week, and it sounds like Cody White isn’t far — then there could be a spark that allows Michigan State to finish strong. That has to be the goal — get to seven or eight wins, play well in a decent bowl game and build some momentum heading to the offseason with very few players being lost.
► Q. How safe is Dave Warner? — @rdsmith627
► A. As I stated earlier — don’t hold your breath if you’re hoping for sweeping staff changes. It’s just not Mark Dantonio’s style. Say what you will about that approach, but it’s the way it is and the way it always has been with Dantonio, and I don’t see that changing.