Michigan State seniors Mike Panasiuk, Brian Lewerke and Kenny Willekes talk about going out with a win in the Pinstripe Bowl. The Detroit News
New York — Brian Lewerke has taken his share of grief over the years.
When a team is struggling and the offense isn’t putting up points, it’s the quarterback who usually gets most of the criticism and that has certainly been the case for the Michigan State senior.
So it was certainly a satisfying end for Lewerke on Friday as he was named the Pinstripe Bowl MVP, throwing for 320 yards and a touchdown and running for another score to lead Michigan State to a 27-21 victory over Wake Forest at Yankee Stadium.
In typical Lewerke fashion, he downplayed his performance.
“It felt good,” Lewerke said. “Obviously we just wanted to come out and get a win, to send these seniors out the right way and to send the guys coming back a little boost coming into next year.”
It was the second time Lewerke was handed an individual trophy after a bowl game. He was named the offensive MVP in the 2017 Holiday Bowl when Michigan State capped a 10-win season by beating Washington State. Expectations were high for Lewerke and the Spartans after that, but those expectations were never realized.
Lewerke injured his throwing shoulder midway through the 2018 season as Michigan State’s offense struggled and the Spartans finished 7-6. The offense had similar problems this season as Michigan State suffered a five-game skid at one point and had to win the final two games of the season to be bowl eligible.
Quietly, though, Lewerke was moving his way up the career record book at Michigan State. While the scrutiny was intense at times, Lewerke never wavered. His 366 total yards on Friday — he had 46 rushing yards and a touchdown to go with his passing numbers — moved him past Connor Cook as the all-time leader in total yards at 9,548.
Lewerke also finishes his career ranked fourth in touchdown passes (47), fourth in passing yards (8,293), second in completions (721), third in rushing yards for a quarterback (1,255) and third in wins (22-16).
Michigan State's Cody White, Jalen Nailor, Antjuan Simmons and Elijah Collins talk about the win in the Pinstripe Bowl. The Detroit News
“That’s amazing for him to break that record,” wide receiver Cody White said. “We were just trying to play our hearts out for him and he was able to make plays today. For him to go out as a senior in his last game breaking the record was amazing.”
Michigan State coach Mark Dantonio called Lewerke’s effort against Wake Forest “huge” and Lewerke conceded it was probably the best he felt all season.
“That’s up there for sure,” Lewerke said. “The ball felt really good. The weather was perfect. The ball was a little tacky with the weather too, the humidity and all of that. It was a perfect recipe for it.”
Michigan State didn’t have to worry about any players sitting out the bowl game, but as the Spartans head into the offseason there will be some focus on players who might opt to head early to the NFL. The most likely would be junior wide receiver Cody White, junior cornerback Josiah Scott and junior linebacker Antjuan Simmons.
Following the game, White was the one player who said he’s at least exploring the options, having submitted his name to the NFL Draft Advisory Board to get feedback on where he might stand for next spring’s draft.
“I've thought about it,” White said after he had eight catches for 97 yards and a touchdown against Wake Forest. “I haven’t made my decision yet, though.”
White said he doesn’t have a timetable for his decision and wouldn’t give any hints as to what he would need to hear from the NFL Board that would sway him one way or the other.
Scott, who was named second-team All-Big Ten by the media, wasn’t available after the game.
Simmons, who had nine tackles on Friday, made it clear he’ll be in East Lansing next season.
“Yeah, I'll be back,” Simmons said. “(My role is) no different really, you know. Just keep doing what I'm doing.”
Michigan State coach Mark Dantonio breaks down the Spartans' victory over Wake Forest in the Pinstripe Bowl. The Detroit News
Saved the best for last
Senior defensive tackle Mike Panasiuk went out in style, getting his first career touchdown when he snagged a pass that was batted down by his brother, junior defensive end Jacub Panasiuk, and returned it 14 yards for the touchdown in the first quarter.
“Shout out to my guy, Mike, for getting his first touchdown,” defensive end Kenny Willekes said. “That's pretty damn cool to score a touchdown at Yankee Stadium.”
Panasiuk was so fired up about the touchdown that he drew a 15-yard penalty for taking his helmet off in the celebration. It was a penalty he was fine with, though he wondered why the offensive coaches never decided to use him carrying the ball.
“In high school I played fullback,” Panasiuk said. “I don't know where they didn't see that, but I still got the touchdown, so I guess it's cool.”
Michigan State was without fifth-year senior tight end Matt Seybert, who was using crutches and had his right knee in a brace.
Dantonio said Seybert “tweaked” his knee early in bowl practices, leading to extensive snaps for redshirt freshman Trenton Gillison, who had four catches for 88 yards, including a career-long 64-yarder.
“Every time we run it in and practice the safeties never really covered it,” Gillison said of the big play. “They’ve been more selective. But I was open and Brian cocked it back and threw it and I had to make a play for him.”
… Fifth-year senior wide receiver Darrell Stewart returned after missing four games with a foot injury. He started his final game and had two catches for 3 yards.
… Sophomore fullback Max Rosenthal suffered an apparent lower-body injury in the second quarter and did not return.
… Freshman offensive lineman Devontae Dobbs did not play, ensuring he will redshirt this season after playing in four games. Fellow freshman J.D. Duplain started at left guard but freshman Nick Samac was replaced at center by junior Matt Allen.