'Matured' receivers give MSU's Lewerke plenty of options
East Lansing — There’s a simple motto the players in Michigan State’s wide receiver room live by.
“See ball, catch ball,” junior Felton Davis said on Saturday night.
It’s pretty straight forward, but considering that entering the 2017 season, Davis’ 14 career catches were, by far, the most of any returning Spartans receiver, it wasn’t exaggerating to wonder who might make plays in the passing game.
After Saturday night’s 27-24 victory over Penn State, the question is becoming, how many different playmakers can one receiving group have?
Davis had another huge game, catching 12 passes for 181 yards — both career highs — while making a diving grab on a 33-yard touchdown connection with quarterback Brian Lewerke that will be on most highlight reels this weekend.
“It doesn’t matter where you put it,” Davis explained, “I’m gonna try and find a way to get it.”
He’s been doing that all season. Davis, who saw time as a true freshman in 2015, was hampered by injuries for much of 2016. But there’s been no rust now as he entered Saturday’s game with 33 catches for 405 yards and seven touchdowns, one behind Maryland’s D.J. Moore for the most in the Big Ten.
But what’s made Michigan State’s offense hum is the fact Davis is far from a one-man show. Sophomore Darrell Stewart had five catches for 65 yards and a touchdown while freshmen Cody White and Hunter Rison each made big catches.
That all came a week after White and Stewart established career highs in catches and receiving yards.
“I think those guys have matured,” co-offensive coordinator Dave Warner said. “I think there’s a confidence level between quarterback and wide receiver that’s always very important for those guys being on the same page. I think, hopefully we’re at that point now, where those guys are on the same page.
“It doesn’t just happen overnight and I think we’re hopefully getting there. Those guys have made big plays and they’ve made big plays throughout the season. To make those plays in a big game like this is a feather in their head.”
Lewerke has taken advantage of it. He completed 33 of 56 passes for 400 yards and two touchdowns, the second straight game he threw for 400 yards or more.
“I felt great. I felt good throwing the ball,” Lewerke said. “Their defense had a good amount of holes in it. They run exotic defenses, they blitz a lot, brought a lot of guys. It left a lot of holes downfield and I was able to take advantage of it.”
And with the running game still having trouble finding much traction, the passing game has plenty of weapons as Michigan State keeps pushing for a Big Ten East title.
“Quarterback spreads it around, between the tight ends, some between the back, some between our wide receivers,” coach Mark Dantonio said. “If you look at the number of catches, I don’t care who catches the ball, get open and it’s going to get thrown to you, and that’s pretty much the message that gets sent out there. Get open and it’ll be thrown to you. He spreads it around. I don’t think he goes to one particular guy. Sometimes there are plays that are designed to go to a specific person, but not too often.”
Added Warner, “I think it’s a full-team effort. Obviously, (Lewerke) has grown as the season has gone on but so has our offensive line and so have our receivers. I think it’s for sure Brian has been doing a great job throwing the ball around, been very accurate but I think he’s had pretty good protection for the most part. Nothing’s ever perfect. Again our receivers are growing as well. They’re running good routes, getting open, they’re getting on the same page. I think it’s everybody involved in the offense.”