East Lansing — Not much has gone right this season for Michigan State and after its sixth straight loss on Saturday, the Spartans got some more bad news.
In the wake of a 32-23 loss to Michigan, its first since 2012 in the series, Michigan State coach Mark Dantonio said on Sunday night that redshirt freshman quarterback Brian Lewerke is out for the season with a broken tibia in his left leg. The injury happened in the fourth quarter when Lewerke was scrambling to keep a play alive on fourth down before getting tackled by Michigan’s Jabrill Peppers.
“He’s got a broken tibia I believe,” Dantonio said in his weekly teleconference. “We thought it was an ACL initially but it’s not. So he’s out and so that’s a tough blow for us.”
It’s a tough blow because Lewerke was the one Michigan State quarterback on Saturday that showed he could move the offense by throwing the ball downfield after fifth-year senior Tyler O’Connor and junior Damion Terry had limited success.
In four games this season, Lewerke completed 31 of 57 passes for 381 yards, two touchdowns and one interception.
“We expect him back for the spring,” Dantonio said. “It’s a non-surgical-type thing from what I understand. ... I think it’s a 12-week total recovery. So he’ll be fine.”
How much it stunts Lewerke’s development won’t be known until at least the spring, but there were promising signs over the last three weeks that he could develop into Michigan State’s starting quarterback next season.
There were also the requisite growing pains of a young quarterback, something that would have likely been alleviated with regular playing time over the last four weeks.
“He’s progressively gotten better in terms of his experiences and his reads,” Dantonio said. “I think he’s talented, I think he’s got great arm strength. He can certainly move with the football and make plays, and really be sort of dynamic, I think, in his ability to run with the football at times and get out of problems. He shows toughness.
“But, you know, he’s still a freshman. The play gets called, he calls it wrong, and they put the formation to the boundary rather than to the field. ... There’s a lot going on out there, there’s a lot to think about, playing against big people, talented people, tight coverage, tight windows to throw the ball in.”
Where Michigan State goes from here is the next question. In the short term it’s clear that O’Connor will continue to start while Terry, who Dantonio said simply had the wind knocked out of him Saturday when he gave way to Lewerke, could also see more action.
Terry had done enough in practice last week, Dantonio said, to warrant moving ahead of Lewerke heading into the Michigan game. In Saturday’s game, Terry had success running the ball but was 0-for-4 passing.
“I thought he showed a good grasp of where to go with the ball,” Dantonio said. “The progressions, the reads. He gives you another guy that can create opportunities to run the football. He can run the football. He showed that the other day. I think he gives you that type of guy, and he’s got some game experience. He’s had some productivity in those games.”
Whether Michigan State goes any deeper than O’Connor or Terry is the tougher issue to gauge. The next obvious option is freshman Messiah deWeaver, though burning a redshirt on a quarterback in the ninth game of the season is not the path the Spartans would like to go.
The other quarterback on the roster is sophomore walk-on Colar Kuhns, who threw for more than 5,000 yards and 60 touchdowns in his high school career.
“We’ll certainly look at that and evaluate (deWeaver’s status) along with Colar Kuhns, a guy that’s been in our program and who’s been a non-scholarship player, but he’s got some talent,” Dantonio said. “So we’ll look at that and see what’s the best way to go in terms of who the No. 3 quarterback is, but you certainly want to see Messiah progress. It’s again about, if something happens, who’s playing, so you have to be prepared for that, too.”
Outside of the quarterback news, Dantonio again lamented his team’s missed opportunities in the loss to Michigan while trying to get his team to regroup heading into the week of preparation for a trip to Illinois on Saturday.
He was impressed with the play of sixth-year linebacker Ed Davis, who got his first start, and said freshman receiver Donnie Corley played about as you would expect for a guy who had been moved to cornerback just days before the game.
“But with (Vayante) Copeland being down and not practiced all week, we just felt like we needed to have a guy that had size and speed and athletic ability that could match up with their wideouts,” Dantonio said, “and I thought that he gave us an opportunity to do that.”
Dantonio was also asked if linebacker Chris Frey, who took a heavy hit on Saturday but returned to the game shortly after, went through concussion protocols.
“Yes, I assume that he did because we have Dr. (David) Kaufman on the sidelines to do just that,” Dantonio said. “He was never diagnosed with a possible concussion or anything like that. But yeah, he took a shot, there’s no question about that.”
Michigan State at Illinois
Kickoff: Noon, Memorial Stadium, Champaign, Illinois
TV/radio: ESPN News/WJR
Line: No line
Records: Michigan State 2-6 (0-5 Big Ten); Illinois 2-6 (1-4)
Series: Michigan State leads 26-17-2 (Last: 2013 — Michigan State 42, (at) Illlinois 3)