Brian Lewerke will start for Michigan State in Redbox Bowl

Matt Charboneau
The Detroit News
Brian Lewerke

For at least half the season, figuring out who would start at quarterback for Michigan State was a weekly question.

Junior Brian Lewerke injured his right throwing shoulder in the win over Penn State on Oct. 13, and from there, he was never 100 percent again. Redshirt freshman Rocky Lombardi stepped in and started three games, but each week, it was never known until kickoff which quarterback would be under center.

There is no such suspense now as coach Mark Dantonio announced on Friday that Lewerke would start on Monday in the Redbox Bowl against Oregon.

“We wanted to let things take its course through bowl preparation and everything,” Dantonio said. “Brian Lewerke will start the game. So, he’ll be our starter as we move through. He’s taken all the reps pretty much throughout the bowl practices and we’re into No. 10 or 11, whatever it is. So, we feel good about that.”

More: Former walk-on Kenny Willekes emerges as Michigan State's terror in trenches

Whether Lewerke will last the entire game will likely relate to how he is feeling. Lewerke completed 60 percent of his passes through the first six games but saw that performance plummet after suffering the injury in mid-October.

He struggled in games he played injured, most notably against Michigan and Ohio State. He was just 5-for-25 for 66 yards in the loss to the Wolverines and was 11-for-28 for 128 yards and an interception against the Buckeyes.

But Lewerke said last week the time off has helped and reiterated that on Friday before his coach announced Lewerke would start.

“Feeling better, yeah,” Lewerke said. “I’ve been practicing a bit, so it’s feeling a lot better.”

What the specific injury is has never been disclosed as Dantonio rarely gives details on injuries unless a player is lost for the season.

The issue for Lewerke has been whether he’s had the ability to make all the throws necessary. Dantonio believes that strength has returned for the quarterback who has started 24 games in his career.

“I think it was relative to his arm strength,” Dantonio said. “It’s not so much his mechanics as to his arm strength and time has to heal that sometimes. I think that’s what’s happened to him. I think he’s back to being confident in that strength which is a big issue and I think he’s ready to go. So, he’s done well.”

Lombardi played well in his first start, a win over Purdue, throwing for a pair of touchdowns and more than 300 yards. He didn’t fare nearly as well from there, struggling after coming in to relieve Lewerke against Ohio State as well as starting assignments vs. Nebraska and Rutgers. He was 15-for-41 for 146 yards and an interception against the Cornhuskers and 19-for-43 for 173 yards with a touchdown and an interception against the Scarlet Knights.

Even with Lewerke getting the call to face the Ducks, that doesn’t mean Lombardi won’t get a shot.

“Rocky has done a nice job as well,” Dantonio said. “Obviously, he’s played a lot of football for us and he’ll have an opportunity as well should things go in that direction.”

Twitter: @mattcharboneau

Redbox Bowl

Michigan State  vs. Oregon

Kickoff: 3 p.m. Monday, Levi’s Stadium, Santa Clara, Calif.

Records: Michigan State 7-5; Oregon 8-4

TV: Fox

Line: Oregon by 2.5