East Lansing — Mental mistakes in the first game of the season are hardly abnormal.
And when you’re a team like Michigan State that played nine redshirt freshmen and nine true freshmen in the win against Bowling Green, seeing a few lapses wouldn’t be that big of a shock.
However, after the 35-10 victory, there wasn’t a long list of mistakes, especially for the offensive line that started a redshirt freshman at right tackle and used two true freshmen at various points of the game.
“It was really surprising,” offensive line coach Mark Staten said. “It was surprising how few, offensive line, mental errors there were, where you don’t do the right thing. For playing the young guys that we played, we had minimal, very minimal.
“And Bowling Green came out with two different fronts that we had not seen them play all of last year, and for those guys to be able to handle it and know their assignments and block accordingly was very good.”
The one glaring mistake didn’t come from one of the youngster, though. It happened in the first quarter when senior center Brian Allen snapped the ball high while quarterback Brian Lewerke was looking away. Bowling Green recovered the ball and ended a Michigan State drive.
Allen, the clear leader of the offensive line, was colorful in his description of the snap, but aside from that play, he was encouraged by what he saw from the offensive line.
“Just limit the mental mistakes,” Allen said when asked what his group needs to improve on. “There weren’t a lot for a first game, but limit those and continue to play together. I think we had a couple mistakes, two fumbles and my (crappy) snap. Limit those but at the same time we never got mad, never got angry, just kept playing and played together and that was good to see. In years past it would be easy to crumble there and we just kept playing and kept pounding away and eventually the offense scored points.”
They were able to score those points using 11 different players along the offensive line, including true freshmen Jordan Reid at right tackle and Kevin Jarvis at right guard. On top of that, right tackle Luke Campbell started for the first time and redshirt freshman Matt Allen also saw his first action at center.
“It was fun to watch them play, fun to watch them go after it,” Staten said. “Jordan, really confident, knowing what to do, how to do it, what to do. Kevin getting there. Kevin is a big, strong, mauling guard whereas you see Jordan out there with his feet and what he is able to do.
“And then Matt Allen gave me an Allen-like performance. There’s nothing ever too glamorous about it but you know he’s going to give his all. It was good to be able to get Brian back out there at the guard position for a little while and see those two out there battling like Brian and Jack used to do.”
While the brother combination could happen more often as the season progresses, the offensive line is now putting as much focus on improving its rushing numbers — MSU gained 215 yards on the ground but 69 came from quarterback Brian Lewerke on scrambles — while getting used to a mobile quarterback.
It’s not something the Spartans are used to, but Lewerke has proven he can make things happen with his feet and won’t sit around waiting for things to happen. He’ll take off and that means the Spartans approach their blocking differently.
“You just always have to be alert to a go call or alert to why he is starting to run that way and the quarterback is supposed to be behind you,” Staten said. “So, you have to transition and we started doing some transitional work, just you’re engaged and now your changing of direction and things like that according to what the defender is doing.
“We’ve really worked on trying to move guys as far as the front four, get them out of the way so if Lewerke does see a lane, he can get up and go.”
Teams are sure to adjust to Lewerke each week, but the Spartans will continue to gain experience up front, as well. That development is what Brian Allen has been focusing on heading into the Western Michigan game.
“Just understanding it’s gonna be tough,” he said about what he tells his younger teammates.
“It’s OK not to win every block. It’s OK not to dominate every play, but at the same time you’ve got to know what you’re doing and if you have a mistake you’ve got to ask the guys around you and just keep getting better.”