Bob Wojnowski and John Niyo are joined by former running backs Nick Hill of MSU and Chris Howard of UM to talk about this weekend's big games, and Matt Charboneau breaks down his AP Top 25 vote. Detroit News
There were times last winter when Felton Davis wondered what would come next.
As he and his teammates trudged through winter workouts and into an uncertain spring, the receivers and quarterbacks — primarily Brian Lewerke — worked tirelessly to develop some chemistry.
It was necessary considering Lewerke missed the last four games of 2016 and the Spartans had virtually no production returning among the receivers, Davis’ 14 grabs at that point the most by far.
“At that moment, you don’t really see the light at the end of the tunnel but you know it’s there,” Davis said this week as No. 12 Michigan State gets set to face No. 13 Ohio State on Saturday. “So, we got in here and spent countless hours in here. We knew as soon as the season ended the film was up from last year. I went through the whole schedule and watched film on defensive backs who were returning.”
With that knowledge and the growing cohesion between Lewerke and the receivers, Davis said he could see it coming together. Through the first seven games this season, there were glimpses of that light Davis believed would come.
Davis had two touchdowns in the opener against Bowling Green and two more in the Big Ten opener against Iowa. Along the way, there were quick bursts where fellow receivers Darrell Stewart and Cody White flashed.
But for the most part, the passing game was having trouble getting on a roll. Until two weeks ago, that is, when it all started to come together. That game ended up being a triple-overtime loss at Northwestern, but Lewerke threw for a program-record 445 yards, adding two touchdown passes to both Davis and White. It was a huge game for White, the freshman, who established career highs in catches (9) and receiving yards (165) while Davis had eight receptions for 95 yards and Stewart added 11 grabs for 98.
A week later, things kept clicking the upset over Penn State as Lewerke threw for 400 yards — the first Michigan State quarterback ever to do that in back-to-back games — while Davis added two more touchdowns with career highs in catches (12) and yards (181). Freshman Hunter Rison also joined in the party with two huge receptions in the second half to keep a touchdown drive going.
In other words, all the work put in during the offseason was starting to come to fruition.
“We see the light now,” Davis said. “It’s been getting closer and closer every week. We’re going to go out this week and take it one step closer.”
What the Spartans understand now was that all the work in the offseason — it began the moment last season ended, they all say — was the first step to getting to this point.
The confidence is soaring and the results are following.
“(Confidence) is really high,” said Lewerke, who is fifth in the Big Ten, averaging 245.2 passing yards. “All of us are confident in each other and confident in ourselves that we can make plays when we need to.”
There has been plenty of need to throw the ball the past two weeks because the Michigan State running game has been stuck in the mud. After gaining 245 yards in a win over Minnesota with LJ Scott picking up 194 on his own, things have ground to a halt in the rushing game.
Michigan State ran for 95 yards on 30 carries in the loss at Northwestern and gained just 74 on 24 carries last week. It’s led to plenty of work for Lewerke, who threw 57 times two weeks ago and 56 against Penn State.
It’s led the Spartans quarterback to icing his arm more regularly, something Davis said Lewerke didn’t use to do.
“It’s crazy. I asked him in fall camp if he iced his arm and he said, ‘No,’” Davis recalled. “My quarterback in high school iced it every and I throw four passes and my arm hurts.”
There are no complaints from Lewerke, however, who is happy to be slinging it all over the field.
The Spartans would love to have more balance and Ohio State coach Urban Meyer talked this week about defending a Michigan State team that is throwing the ball much more than it used to.
At this point, however, they’ll go with what’s working.
“I think every game dictates that situation,” Michigan State coach Mark Dantonio said. “Am I comfortable throwing that many times? As long as we don't have a lot of interceptions, yeah, I would be comfortable, as long as we have a lot of completions. But it's normally not good, I don't think, if you have to throw it that many times. But we were successful, we won the football game and everybody's happy.”
Winning brings happiness, that’s clear. And for Michigan State, that has meant airing it out.
The Spartans will try and run it, to be sure, but right now they’re leaning on Lewerke and his growing group weapons.
“There’s confidence in each other,” Davis said. “Brian has trust in us and we trust him to put the ball somewhere we can grab it. He’s trusting us to make catches and I think that’s the biggest thing.”
MICHIGAN STATE VS. OHIO STATE
When: Saturday, noon
Where: Ohio Stadium, Columbus, Ohio
TV / radio: Fox / WJR 760
Records: Michigan State 7-2 (5-1 Big Ten), Ohio State 7-2 (5-1)
Line: Ohio State by 17.5