Dantonio blasts social media vitriol
East Lansing — For several years, Michigan State basketball coach Tom Izzo has railed against social media — Twitter, in particular — and the negative effect it can have on college athletes.
It appears he has an ally now in his campaign against the popular apps that keep the attention of today’s youth — Michigan State football coach Mark Dantonio.
How Dantonio has felt about social media in the past hasn’t come up much, but it’s been an issue this season as junior quarterback Brian Lewerke has struggled and dealt with injury while fans have been clamoring for redshirt freshman Rocky Lombardi to see more playing time.
“You know, we've got our quarterback situation with I think Brian is injured, lost confidence some,” Dantonio said this week. “I don't know if you guys noticed it but the social media out there is vicious, OK, and it can destroy a person to some degree. Not destroy, but they can rattle somebody.”
How much it has rattled Lewerke is just a guess at this point. He wasn’t available for interviews this week and the first time he’d be able to talk about it would be after the Spartans host Rutgers at 4 p.m. Saturday in the regular-season finale.
Lewerke will only be talking if he plays, and that is up in the air for the moment. He did not play last week at Nebraska as Lombardi got his second career start. In the two games before that, Lewerke had a hard time as he played with an injury to his right throwing shoulder.
He was 11-for-20 for 87 yards in the win over Maryland and followed that with an 11-for-28 performance against Ohio State, a game he was pulled from in favor or Lombardi, then put back in during the fourth quarter.
Dantonio wasn’t giving any hints this week about who might get the call against the Scarlet Knights.
“Playing in that position is a struggle in itself,” Dantonio said. “Second of all, (Lewerke will) be able to play when he says he's able to play and he's able to play effectively. Now, is it this week? We'll see, because I think it's a game-to-game thing. And relative to that, I think Rocky Lombardi had his first experience at an away game with a loud, hostile environment when the chips sort of stacked against him a little bit as it came down the stretch.
“He had to make plays down the stretch, and I think that's a tremendous learning environment for him."
After sparking the offense in his first start against Purdue, things haven’t come as easily for Lombardi since. He was 0-for-2 against Maryland with an interception and was 7-for-20 in the Ohio State game, though he did lead two scoring drives against the Buckeyes.
Last week at Nebraska, Lombardi battled poor weather and was 15-for-41 for 146 yards while he ran for 53.
“When I went back and watched the film I thought I played all right,” Lombardi said. “I wasn’t disappointed in my performance. I thought I threw the ball pretty well for the most part, made good decisions. The offensive line played well, extremely well. We just need that last piece to click. It’s been something different every week and I think this week it’s gonna finally click.”
Will it click with Lombardi under center?
“I don’t anticipate anything, I just do what they tell me,” Lombardi said. “When he calls my number I’ll be ready.”
Eighteen seniors will take part in their final home game on Saturday, including wide receiver Felton Davis, who ruptured his Achilles during the Michigan game and was lost for the season.
He’ll be on hand for the game as he continues his rehab in preparation for next spring’s NFL Draft.
“Wish he had another year left,” Dantonio said. “He was an outstanding player for us. He's been an outstanding leader for us. He speaks to football ending for someone very, very quickly like that, how things can change in your life very quickly and about not taking things for granted and pressing forward, so he speaks to that.”
Davis, who finished his career with 100 receptions for 1,450 yards and 14 touchdowns, recorded a message for the team before the Nebraska game.
“He talked about how things can change on him quickly,” Dantonio said. “Just what he experienced and about the need to play and sort of respect; the respect of being able to play the game, and how things can turn on you and it can be taken away from you very quickly. And he pressed a little bit on their competitive emotions.”
Sixth year for Sowards?
Dantonio said this week that fifth-year senior wide receiver Brandon Sowards is planning to petition the NCAA for a sixth season of eligibility. He missed the 2017 season with a knee injury after redshirting in 2014.
“He is planning on applying for a sixth year and that should work out,” Dantonio said.
Michigan State vs. Rutgers
Kickoff: Saturday, 4 p.m., Spartan Stadium, East Lansing
TV/radio: Fox/760 AM
Records: Michigan State 6-5 (4-4 Big Ten), Rutgers 1-10 (0-8)
Line: Michigan State by 28