Michigan State QB picture still in state of flux

Matt Charboneau, The Detroit News

East Lansing — Michigan State made a change at starting quarterback on Saturday, but it’s hard to say whether anything has been decided at that position for the Spartans.

Redshirt freshman Brian Lewerke was impressive early in his first career start, but when the offense became stagnant, coach Mark Dantonio called on fifth-year senior Tyler O’Connor, the starter through the first five games.

O’Connor did his best to lead a rally, but in the end, Michigan State suffered its fourth straight loss, a 54-40 setback to Northwestern at Spartan Stadium.

With Michigan State (2-4, 0-3 Big Ten) in the midst of its worst losing streak under Dantonio, which way the Spartans go at quarterback remains unclear.

“I think right now it's too early for me to say anything,” Dantonio said. “I thought both guys did some good things, and both guys did some things that they'd like to have back. So, we'll look at it and evaluate, but I do think that Lewerke gave us a spark initially. I thought he did some good things for a redshirt freshman. 

“I also think O'Connor went in there in the second half and showed his maturity as a person in handling what went down. He showed why he was elected captain here. I thought he came in there and did some really good things, passed for a bunch of yardage and three touchdowns. We'll evaluate and see where we are.”

O’Connor finished 13-for-21 for 281 yards and three touchdowns. His first score came on a 59-yarder to R.J. Shelton that the senior receiver grabbed after it was tipped by Northwestern defensive back Godwin Igwebuike. The two connected again on an 86-yard touchdown that trimmed Northwestern’s lead to two.

O’Connor added a late 9-yard strike to Donnie Corley with the game decided.

Lewerke was 12-for-19 for 99 yards and a touchdown, his 15-yarder to tight end Josiah Price in the first quarter an impressive throw. He also ran for 30 yards.

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“I would probably give myself a B-plus. I think I did pretty well,” Lewerke said. “But there were obvious mistakes that still need to be corrected. I would probably stay in the pocket more. I skipped too much.

“It has obviously been a while since we have gotten a win, so I was just trying to go out there to do everything I could to get a win for us. That first drive worked pretty well, but we have to keep that up more often.”

With poor play along the offensive line and a paltry running game — MSU gained only 51 yards on Saturday — it’s hard to say which direction Dantonio might go.

What the Michigan State coach did make clear was the fact he won’t sit a senior just because he’s looking to next season.

“My obligation is to all of our players, whether they're seniors or freshmen,” Dantonio said. “We're going to play the best player, and we're going to allow things to take shape. Certainly that can happen at any position, so it can happen at quarterback. I'm not going to say, ‘Hey, that guy is a senior so we don't need him to play anymore.’ I'm not going to do that to a guy. We'll try to play the best players, we always do. 

“We'll try to the best of our ability to put people in positions to win, but I do think that Lewerke did some good things out there. Possibility of him playing is good. I also think that Tyler O'Connor went out there and had a nice game. Again, credit him in terms of how we brought things back and brought us back a little bit. Credit to him, his personality, and who he is as a person.”