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Michigan State: Five things we learned

Matt Charboneau
The Detroit News

Spartans (2-6) were grasping for positives after coming off their sixth straight loss.

Spartan defenders Tyriq Thompson (17)_ Riley Bullough (30) and Chris Frey (23) gang tackle Amara Darboh (82).

Running game improving: The offensive line is actually making progress, at least in terms of running the ball. It’s something that started to surface the previous week in the loss to Maryland when Michigan State ran the ball for 270 yards. Against the No. 1 defense in the nation, one that entered the game allowing fewer total yards than any team in the country and checked in at No. 15 in rushing defense, Michigan State ran for 217 yards with LJ Scott gaining 139. It’s at least resembling the running game that piled up 260 yards against Notre Dame and not the one that gained 51 against Northwestern.

Passing game disappointing: The downside for the offense is the fact it could hardly move the ball at all through the air against Michigan. Much of that was the fact the Wolverines entered the game as the top passing defense in the nation and finding open space in the secondary is far from a simple task. There was some spark in the second half, especially when Brian Lewerke came in the game, but Michigan recorded a pair of sacks and nine quarterback hurries, showing again that while the offensive line is making some progress it’s still a long way from resembling past units at Michigan State.

MSU QB Brian Lewerke gone for season with broken leg

O’Connor likely starting again: What seemed clear at quarterback after the game was thrown for a loop Sunday night with the news redshirt freshman Brian Lewerke would be out for the rest of the season with a broken tibia in his left leg. Lewerke was the most effective of three quarterbacks against Michigan and proved he should be the starter for the final four weeks of the season. It seems an easy decision at this point for Dantonio to stick with fifth-year senior Tyler O’Connor, though he seemed reluctant to pull his captain in the first place. The other alternative is junior Damion Terry, who moved the offense with his feet but was 0-for-4 passing. Any notion of playing true freshman Messiah deWeaver seems highly unlikely with just four games to play.

Scott is the hot back: The tailback position has become a two-player rotation with sophomore LJ Scott and junior Gerald Holmes with sophomore Madre London as the odd man out. What was peculiar on Saturday was the fact Scott touched the ball 11 times in a 12-play drive to open the game that ended with Scott’s 5-yard touchdown run and when the Spartans came out for their second drive Holmes was in the game. Dantonio has always said he’d go with the “hot back” though that move seemed to completely contradict that edict.

Defense shows glimmer of hope: It was far from a memorable day for the Michigan State defense, but there can be a positive drawn from a second half that saw the Spartans allow only three points. That came, of course, after Michigan State failed to force a single punt in the first three quarters as all five drives in the first half ended with scores, the last a field goal after O’Connor’s interception. An interception to open the second half by Darian Hicks was the highlight as MSU kept Michigan out of the end zone and gave the offense a chance to rally. The downside continued to be the fact the Spartans can’t get to the quarterback. There was more pressure this week as they hurried Wilton Speight four times, but they whiffed on a couple potential sacks.