Brad Salem credits offensive line’s ‘drastic’ improvement for Spartans’ spark

By Matt Schoch
The Detroit News
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East Lansing — After taking a lot of blame after another bumbling offensive showing in the opener, new Michigan State offensive coordinator Brad Salem didn’t take the credit on Wednesday.

The No. 18 Spartans ran roughshod on Western Michigan on Saturday, scoring six touchdowns and gaining 582 yards of total offense in a 51-17 victory, the most yards gained by MSU since 2014.

Michigan State offensive coordinator Brad Salem says the improvement in the offensive line against Western Michigan was "drastic."

The offensive line went from maligned to sublime, pushing the Broncos around and clearing the way for a 192-yard night for running back Elijah Collins on the ground. This, one week after the offense scored just one touchdown on the opening drive in a 28-7 win against Tulsa.

“They responded. It was a great week,” Salem said. “It was drastic. Guys played very well, played hard, competed and played with toughness. 

“Generally, it’s a guy physically winning a matchup, and that’s what they did on Saturday.”

Now that the Spartans (2-0) have flexed dominance over mid-majors, it’s Power Five the rest of the way for coach Mark Dantonio’s team, with a potential revenge meeting Saturday against Arizona State serving as the final Big Ten tuneup.

The Sun Devils (2-0) have allowed just 14 points in two games, shutting out Kent State and Sacramento State each through three quarters.

Like Tulsa, ASU coach Herm Edwards employs a 3-3-5 defense.

“There’s always a benefit when you go up against a front that you don’t see in practice,” Salem said. “We’re a four-man front, so you see that through spring football, fall camp and all the sudden jump into the dynamic of Tulsa and we’re going to see it through the year. 

“One game of experience helps us.”

ASU will see a new Michigan State offense from the one that it beat 16-13 last season. Salem hopes to see a different quarterback than the Brian Lewerke who took the loss last season in his home state.

Saturday was a big step forward for the senior from Phoenix, throwing more downfield with success, connecting on three touchdowns for the first time since his sophomore year.

Then the quarterbacks coach, Salem said he saw something extra in Lewerke’s eyes leading up to last year's loss, which was scheduled shortly after he committed to the Spartans — over the Sun Devils — all the way across the country.

“Maybe he pressed a little bit too much or put too much pressure on himself to do it himself,” Salem said. “But his progress has been daily and weekly through fall camp and in the season.

“He’ll be ready to play on Saturday.”

Salem has spread out the Spartans: More shotgun sets and almost exclusively with one running back.

With Saturday’s success, Salem said he noticed a little more bounce in practice so far this week following the long-awaited offensive explosion.

“Your players need to have evidence of that, so Saturday was very much a positive experience, and it’s a reflection of what they put into it,” Salem said. “Things you were hoping would come together, but you really never know until Saturday becomes revealed.”

Salem said he slept a little better Saturday, too.

“You’re measured weekly,” Salem said. “This is the profession we live, and you choose. You literally live and die based on what happens Saturday.

“There’s some things that could’ve happened here, in whatever game, and they don’t, and your week is sort of ruined.

“It’s much easier to come to work and work through that process when you have success on the field. That’s the goal.”

Matt Schoch is a freelance writer.

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