Detroit — There’s no arguing that 2018 didn’t go the way Michigan State hoped it would on the football field.
After winning 10 games in 2017, the Spartans had high hopes entering the season expecting to compete in the Big Ten East behind a defense that would end up among the best in the nation and an offense led by a quarterback who had just gained more total yards in a season than everyone but one player in program history.
It didn’t take long, though, for the offense to start struggling, namely quarterback Brian Lewerke. He threw four interceptions in the first three games — one in the opener against Utah State, another in the end zone during a three-point loss at Arizona State and two more in a win at Indiana.
Another interception came the next week against Central Michigan and then one a week later in a loss to Northwestern. There was one more in the come-from-behind win at Penn State, which seemed to signal the turning point for the Spartans season.
However, Lewerke injured his shoulder that game and struggled with it the rest of the year. By the time he’d finished, Lewerke played in 11 games, starting 10. He threw at least one interception in all but one game.
“I think he played hurt last year a little bit, no question that he did and that impacted the football games,” coach Mark Dantonio said at the Horatio Williams Foundation on Wednesday. “But he wanted to and was good enough to try. Those types of things happen like that, but he’ll be ready to go, and our other guys will as well.”
The poor play and the injury took a toll on Lewerke, and as it turns out, the team. After Saturday’s spring game, Lewerke admitted he didn’t handle the difficulty of the 2018 season well.
“Obviously last year was kind of a tough year for me,” Lewerke said. “I think it, maybe, affected the whole team. My attitude could have been better I think. (Dantonio) wants me to be more positive, more lively for the entire team.”
It’s exactly what Dantonio expects out of a fifth-year senior.
As he spoke during a coaches clinic in Detroit on Wednesday, Dantonio preached the value of leadership and team chemistry. Having his veteran quarterback at the forefront will be critical whether he’s playing well or not.
“When you play at a place like Michigan State or any of these big places you can’t be thin skinned because you’re gonna take criticism,” Dantonio said. “Same with the coach and especially the quarterback. There’s gonna be criticism leveled at you from some direction at some point in your time. You need to be able to control that and use that to fuel yourself and hit the reset button.”
Lewerke will be hitting a reset button after completing just 54.3 percent of his passes last season for 2,040 yards with eight touchdowns and 11 interceptions. The goal will be to get closer to 2017 when Lewerke threw for 2,793 yards and 20 touchdowns with seven interceptions while running for 559 yards.
“I have high expectations,” Dantonio said. “He’s a fifth-year senior and has a great deal of ability and he’s led in a very positive way in the past and been very productive, especially when you go back to ’17, he was a very productive quarterback.”
With the spring game finished, Dantonio and his staff move to the offseason. Dantonio will meet with every player over the next few weeks and he said on Wednesday he expects everyone back when preseason camp begins.
Until then, the Spartans will focus on continuing to put 2018 in the rearview mirror.
“I always think, as much as anything it’s chemistry,” Dantonio said. “Chemistry and work ethic get you places. We’ve got great chemistry, we’ve got great work ethic. Guys come to work every single day, they don’t complain, don’t moan about things. We just keep pushing.
“That’s what I believe and that’s pretty much what every coach believes. It’s how you do the little things that allow you to do the big things, so we just keep going.”
Dantonio was in a hurry to finish his presentation at the coaches clinic so he could head over to Comerica Park and check out the Tigers and the Pirates.
Dantonio knew Pirates catcher Jacob Stallings when he was a young boy and wanted to catch up. Jacob Stallings is the son of Kevin Stallings, who was a basketball coach at Kansas the same time Dantonio was on the Kansas football staff and they lived in the same neighborhood.
“I haven’t seen him in a long time,” Dantonio said.
Dantonio also got a chance to drop into the Fox Sports Detroit broadcast booth to catch up with former Spartan and Tigers analyst Kirk Gibson.