MSU’s Lewerke improves decision making on the run

Matt Charboneau
The Detroit News

East Lansing — It’s hard to tell a player not to try and make a play.

However, when you’re the quarterback and have the ball in your hands on every snap, knowing when to push it and when to play for another down is critical.

For Michigan State sophomore Brian Lewerke, that continues to be one of the key parts of his maturation after just five starts.

“We talk about it every day, every play,” quarterbacks coach Brad Salem said. “When he’s got opportunities to escape, are there times where you need to, sort of as we say, exit safely and get yourself down? Or there are certain times, at the end of plays, too, I think those are the things we kind of said after Sunday, Brian and I, the finish of plays and just critical decisions that you make. Do you force a throw? Sometimes you say yes and the guy makes a throw and makes a play. But sometimes you say no.

“So, he’s got to make great decisions at the finish of a play, especially, I think, when they become broken down. He just keeps growing in that area.”

With a pair of interceptions and three fumbles, knowing when to pull the ball down is still a work in progress for Lewerke.

He’s lost only one of the three fumbles, but that came in a critical situation in last week’s loss to Notre Dame. Deep in Michigan State territory, Lewerke scrambled and pushed for extra yardage while holding the ball high in the air. He fumbled and the Irish took over inside the 25 and eventually scored a touchdown.

MSU mailbag: Spartans still look like a bowl team

However, the miscues haven’t deterred Lewerke.

“I think we're feeling really good,” he said after practice Tuesday.

“We're trying to get back on the field, trying to fix all the mistakes we made in the game in practice this week. I think we're very excited.”

Lewerke is 66-for-105 for 629 yards and six touchdowns this season and has been especially effective with his feet, running for 206 yards and a pair of touchdowns.

But with each play he’s getting closer to understanding when to run, when to throw it away and when to take a sack.

“I really do think football is a life experience,” Salem said. “Every play that you get out here, maybe if you’re a backup or on scout team as a freshman, you need to take value in those things, keep growing. It’s a process every day as a quarterback, but he’s shown growth as he’s been here for three years and really each week. We’re going to continue to see him move forward and keep raising his level every week.”

And that means not taking him out when a game is out of hand. That was the case last week against Notre Dame when Lewerke went the distance and backups Damion Terry and Messiah deWeaver stayed on the sidelines.

“You would like to get both of those guys reps - Damion and Messiah battling at that spot and preparing themselves to go in, in an instant,” Salem said. “So, every rep in practice, we try to sprinkle things around each week just so they get different reps with different people.

“That was maybe an opportunity, but we just kind of felt like Brian is still young. Here’s another two-minute opportunity; you have to get with receivers, and timing, on the same page. You’d obviously like to get everybody in for game reps, but continue to grow the guy that’s in there too.”

Allen in running for trophy

Senior center Brian Allen was named a semifinalist for the William V. Campbell Trophy, which is awarded annually by the National Football Foundation to the nation’s top scholar-athlete, also known as the “Academic Heisman.”

Candidates for the award must be a senior or graduate student in their final year of eligibility, have a GPA of at least 3.2 on a 4.0 scale, have outstanding football ability as a first team player or significant contributor, and have demonstrated strong leadership and citizenship.

This is the sixth time in the past seven years the Spartans have had a semifinalist for the Campbell Trophy.

The Spartans had a finalist three of four years from 2011-14 (QB Kirk Cousins in 2011, LB Max Bullough in 2013, P Mike Sadler in 2014). Center Jack Allen and tight end Josiah Price were semifinalists the past two seasons.