Matt Charboneau and John Niyo of The Detroit News talk about Michigan State's third straight loss. Matt Charboneau, The Detroit News
East Lansing — Creating any sort of offensive consistency has been a problem all season for Michigan State.
In fact, it’s been a problem, really, going all the way back to 2016 when the Spartans were coming off an appearance in the College Football Playoffs. Three straight seasons of offensive inconsistency followed and the first eight games of 2019 have been no different.
There are plenty of reasons. The execution has been lacking, the injuries have piled up and the play-calling and game plans again have been questionable.
But in Saturday’s 28-7 loss to Penn State, there was a sequence of quarterback shuffling in the fourth quarter that seemed to epitomize the lack of cohesion in the Spartans offense.
Fifth-year senior Brian Lewerke hadn’t played great, struggling to throw the ball well on a miserable, rainy day. So, with 12 minutes to play and the Spartans trailing by 21, Mark Dantonio decided to make a change and went with sophomore Rocky Lombardi.
After two straight three-and-outs it was on to redshirt freshman Theo Day. He managed to go 2-for-3, getting his first two completions. But after a 4-yard pass to Julian Barnett for a first down, Day got the hook, apparently for getting a play call wrong.
It was then back to Lewerke, who fumbled a snap then threw two incomplete passes before another punt.
“I didn't think he was performing very well,” Dantonio said when asked about pulling Day. “We had three plays and out. You have to be able to at least execute and operate. I felt like putting him in the game would give him his first chance to really play football for us on the field. We were trying to give him an opportunity to show what he can do a little bit and maybe spark us a little bit, but also give him a taste of all this. This was his first time in there and I'm sure he'll be better, but I didn't feel like he was going to allow us — he didn't give us the best chance to score.
“I really felt the way the game was going with 12 minutes to go, it was 28-7. If we scored a touchdown and get within two touchdowns and then get one more, you just never know. But we weren't executing very effectively.”
Of course, it was Lombardi who went three-and-out twice, then threw an interception when he reentered the game on the final possession.
The numbers weren’t pretty for any of the quarterbacks. Lewerke 16-for-34 for 165 yards and an interception, Lombardi was 1-for-6 for 5 yards and an interception while Day was 2-for-3 for 12 yards.
Michigan State coach talks about the loss to Penn State, the third in a row for the Spartans. Matt Charboneau, The Detroit News
For Dantonio, the shuffling was simply about trying to find some sort of spark.
“I felt like any major league baseball team that sometimes maybe you need to bring in another guy to see what he's got tonight,” Dantonio said. “I think the fair thing to do at that point in time is to find out what (Lombardi’s) got tonight; can he move us a little bit? Can he throw the ball in the wet, and those types of things? When that didn't work and I felt like the next step would be to come back and give Theo a shot because I think the game experience is as important as anything and he had not had any game experience. I felt like game experience would at least give him an opportunity to say, ‘OK, I've been in the game, I've been in a situation where there's some chips on the table,’ and let's see what he can do.
“Went back to the other guy because I felt like I'm trying to score a touchdown so went back to Lewerke at the end because I felt like he gave us the best shot. We're going to keep trying to go to different people and give them opportunities but they have to make good on those opportunities, too. I don't think putting in Rocky in there was the white flag in terms of our experiences with Lewerke. I still think he gives us the best chance to win football games, I truly do and that's the bottom line.”