Michigan State takeaways: Brian Lewerke takes control, Elijah Collins states his case
Five takeaways from Matt Charboneau of The Detroit News following Michigan State's 51-17 victory over Western Michigan on Saturday night.
Lewerke's feeling it
Brian Lewerke said it was the best he felt since early in the Penn State game a year ago.
It was that game the Michigan State quarterback injured his right throwing shoulder, adding another element to a miserable offensive season for the Spartans.
In Saturday’s victory over Western Michigan, Lewerke, for the first time, looked like the quarterback who had defenses guessing back in 2017. He threw for 314 yards and three touchdowns, putting zip on the ball and commanding the offense. It was the sixth 300-yard game of Lewerke’s career and first since he threw for 329 yards on Oct. 6 of last season against Northwestern.
“It felt good,” Lewerke said. “I was thinking for the first time since maybe Penn State last year that I've felt happy about the product that I put on the field. It feels really good.”
Getting that sort of performance on a consistent basis is the next step for Lewerke, something that is far from guaranteed. However, for at least one night, everything was clicking and Lewerke was leading the entire attack.
Stewart's big night
It’s almost hard to believe, but before Saturday’s game, wide receiver Darrell Stewart never had more than 100 receiving yards in a game. The closest he came was in 2017 at Northwestern when he had 11 grabs for 98 yards.
Against Western Michigan, Stewart went over the 100-yard mark before halftime and threatened 200, finishing with 10 receptions for 185 yards.
It was clear he would be a part of the game plan from the get-go, catching a 33-yard pass to begin the game, then adding a 42-yard touchdown reception later in the first quarter. He still dropped a couple of passes, something that stuck with him after the game as much as the impressive numbers. So, believe it or not, there’s still room for the numbers to increase as Michigan State’s offense starts to find its legs.
Collins emerges as No. 1 RB?
After one week, there still wasn’t a clear picture of who would be Michigan State’s No. 1 running back. If Saturday’s win over Western Michigan is any indication, things are starting to come into focus.
Redshirt freshman Elijah Collins got the start and ripped off a 29-yard carry on the second play from scrimmage. He added a 58-yard gallop in the second half and finished the game with 192 yards on 17 carries.
It was an average per carry that is unlikely to continue, but Collins showed the burst and the instinct to find the hole that others have struggled with. It seems clear that moving forward sophomore La’Darius Jefferson is the short-yardage option, scoring on runs of 2 and 1 yard, while freshman Anthony Williams looked sharp in his first carries late in the game.
The only question at this point is what this all means for junior Connor Heyward. He’ll still get a few carries and provides plenty of versatility as a receiver, but his days as the No. 1 back might be numbered.
O-line answers bell
The core of an offense is the offensive line, and it’s no surprise that unit has been struggling mightily for the Spartans. Coach Mark Dantonio called out his team’s effort and tenacity last week, and while he didn’t single them out, it sure seemed like much of the ire was directed at the men up front.
To their credit, they responded by controlling the line of scrimmage against the Broncos. Offensive line coach Jim Bollman stuck with the same five for large parts of the game, with Kevin Jarvis at left tackle, Luke Campbell at left guard and Jordan Reid at right tackle playing all the snaps until the reserves entered late. Before that, the only shuffling came as Blake Bueter spelled Matt Allen at center while Matt Carrick and Tyler Higby both played right guard. The Western Michigan defensive front offered little resistance, but the play was at least encouraging for the MSU offensive line.
Also, freshmen Devontae Dobbs and Nick Samac saw some playing time in the fourth quarter.
'D' still dominates
Not much changes with Michigan State’s defense. Teams still have a hard time running the ball while the Spartans consistently get after the quarterback and create turnovers.
Western Michigan ran for just 67 yards, far from the minus-73 MSU allowed last week, but still an impressive number for last season’s No. 1 run defense.
Michigan State also broke up seven passes, had six tackles for loss, three sacks and two interceptions. That’s six forced turnovers through two games this season, a number that should be higher as both Josiah Scott and Josh Butler dropped what looked like sure interceptions.
The Spartans also excelled in sudden-change situations, keeping the game out of reach late in the first quarter when the MSU offense fumbled the ball away and Western Michigan took over at the MSU 17. But safety Xavier Henderson got his first interception, and the Spartans were able to flip the field and tack on a late field goal headed to the locker room.