Irish pose 'personal rivalry' for MSU's Lewerke, Dowell
East Lansing — There will be plenty of familiar faces on each side of the ball Saturday night when Michigan State hosts Notre Dame, and that’s not an odd thing when teams from the same region of the country play on a regular basis.
It’s true for the coaching staffs and, more importantly, the players. For at least a few of them, it will pit friend against friend.
That’s the case for Michigan State junior linebacker Andrew Dowell and sophomore quarterback Brian Lewerke. Dowell and his brother, safety David Dowell, graduated from St. Edward High in Lakewood, Ohio, in 2015 with current Notre Dame cornerback Shaun Crawford while Lewerke and Fighting Irish quarterback Brandon Wimbush were roommates during the Elite 11 quarterback competition in high school.
“There’s definitely been some trash talk,” Dowell joked this week.
None of the friendships will be tested in a head-to-head matchup. The Dowells and Crawford all play defense, which means the talking might not come on the field. Even so, Dowell is looking forward to facing someone he’s been close to for years.
“He’s one of my best friends, so we’ll have a personal rivalry,” Andrew Dowell said. “He had a really good game last week so it will be cool to be out there with him at corner. He got hurt right before the game last year, so it will be cool this year.”
Injuries have hampered Crawford, who tore his Achilles in the second game of the 2016 season, one week before the Irish faced the Spartans. He’s healthy now and had two interceptions and a fumble recovery last week in Notre Dame’s win over Boston College.
He became the first Notre Dame defender to force three turnovers in a game since 2010.
“Not having played in two years, I think he's starting to feel a lot more comfortable with his conditioning, his football conditioning, not conditioning from an athletic standpoint but just playing the game,” Notre Dame coach Brian Kelly said. “One of the things that Shaun has always had over other players on our team is, you know, a football sense and instinct, and he's always been around the ball. He's been a playmaker.”
On the other side of the ball, Wimbush has been the star for Notre Dame, running for 207 yards and four touchdowns in the win over Boston College.
And while his passing numbers haven’t been great through three games, Lewerke said you could see early that Wimbush was a playmaker.
“First of all he had a very strong arm,” Lewerke recalled from their Elite 11 days. “He’s a guy that can wing it. He’d be rolling out and throw it 40 yards downfield off his back foot. … He’s a great quarterback and obviously his feet will be a big part of their offense, too.”
Lewerke said he and Wimbush still keep in contact, but there’s not much trash talk, mostly just respect.
“After the game last year I got to find him and say, ‘What’s up,’ to him," Lewerke said. "He was commenting on my Instagram picture the other week and saying, ‘Good luck this weekend. Can’t wait to play you.’”
Michigan State has played its share of night games over the years and will likely play even more with permanent lights now installed at Spartan Stadium.
However, it still is an adjustment to the typical afternoon start times the players are used to. Each has a different approach to the day, but they all agree they love the environment.
“The whole atmosphere, the Spartan atmosphere, is just perfect in itself,” Andrew Dowell said. “You add a night game under the lights, a nationally televised game, a great opponent against Notre Dame. This is what people come to Michigan State for.”
So what will they do all day? For Lewerke it’s a balance of taking it easy and keeping his mind on the game.
“You get a little later wake-up call, you get to sleep in a little longer,” Lewerke said. “I'll watch College GameDay in the morning and probably watch a little more film as the day goes on and just try to get ready for the game later.”
Another fresh face
Michigan State has played 10 true freshmen through the first two games and last week coach Mark Dantonio said the chances are good safety Dominique Long becomes the 11th this week.
“He’s a very sharp kid. He’s a very coachable kid,” co-defensive coordinator Mike Tressel said of Long on Wednesday. “He communicates well, and he also can flat-out run.
"So, when you’re coachable — any time a freshman’s out there, a mistake will be made, but when you have the speed to close the gap and cover for that mistake, you feel good about things.”