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Michigan State: Five things we learned vs. Maryland

Matt Charboneau
The Detroit News
Kenny Willekes (48) had three of Michigan State's eight tackles for loss in Saturday's win over Maryland.

Here are five takeaways from Matt Charboneau of The Detroit News following Michigan State’s 17-7 win over Maryland on Saturday.

Back on track

The running game that had taken the last four weeks off finally came back to life by gaining 271 yards with junior LJ Scott carrying a career-high 29 times for 147 yards and a touchdown. It was the best outing since the Spartans gained 245 in a win over Minnesota, the same night Scott ran for 194 yards. It didn’t hurt that Maryland entered the game with a rushing defense that ranked 12th in the Big Ten by allowing more than 173 yards a game, but it was a positive, nonetheless.

The Spartans had been stymied up front in recent weeks and managed to gain just 64 yards on the ground last week at Ohio State. But Michigan State controlled the line of scrimmage from the outset against Maryland and that should provide some momentum heading into next week’s game at Rutgers. Gerald Holmes added 64 yards rushing while quarterback Brian Lewerke had 63.

Rough outing

It’s nothing to panic over, but a 2-for-14 passing performance for 20 yards was hard to overlook from Lewerke. Sure, the weather was terrible and that played a big role, as did a handful of borderline drops from Michigan State receivers. But the bottom line is, the Spartans will need more from Lewerke moving forward. No, the sophomore isn’t going to throw for 400 yards every game like he did in back-to-back efforts against Northwestern and Penn State. But being serviceable is necessary when Michigan State is trying to achieve some sort of offensive balance.

The running game did its part on Saturday by gaining 271 yards, but that might be tougher to do against most of the other teams in the Big Ten, especially if the Spartans can’t throw the ball. Odds are, the paltry production on Saturday will amount to one of those rough nights where nothing goes right. Lewerke has shown he’s far better, something the Spartans will be counting on next week, in a bowl game, and certainly next season.

Dandy defense

The defense was stinging after last week when it gave up 335 yards rushing in the loss to Ohio State, the most ever allowed by a Michigan State team in the Mark Dantonio era. On top of that, the 45-point loss was the most one-sided under Dantonio, as well. But the defense showed plenty of resolve by bouncing back quickly against Maryland. Again, it helps that the Terrapins were down to their third- and fourth-string quarterbacks, but the Spartans held the Terps to 83 yards rushing while giving up 121 through the air, most of those coming late.

There were some solid individual numbers, too, as linebacker Joe Bachie had 11 tackles, including one for loss, while defensive end Kenny Willekes had three tackles for loss, including a pair of sacks. The Spartans had eight total tackles for loss and broke up six passes, a heck of a response — regardless of opponent — after getting run over last week.

Weathering the weather

It’s starting to get old, but if Michigan State is playing, odds are the weather is going to be nasty. The Spartans have had their share of ugly games this season, playing in a monsoon at Michigan, a similar setting in a delayed game at Minnesota then two weeks ago enduring a three-and-a-half hour weather delay in the victory over Penn State. Saturday’s matchup with Maryland included wind, rain and for the bulk of the game, snow.

It hindered both teams as the ball was tough to hang on to and the footing was far from ideal. But Michigan State has proven it can handle the adverse conditions. They’ve thrown for big numbers in it, and on Saturday, they ran through the slop. It’s hardly pretty, but Michigan State has shown that it can consistently overcome whatever Mother Nature has to offer.

Reversal of fortune

The win over Maryland might have been a microcosm for the season. Dantonio wondered how his team would bounce back from last week’s ugly loss and by Saturday night, he kept talking about how proud he was of the energy the Spartans had in beating the Terps. The same can be said for the entire season, one that is now set up for Michigan State to win nine games and reverse its 3-9 record from last season.

Not many expected the Spartans to be at this point, having a chance to win the division late in the season with the prospect of playing in a top bowl game. But here they are, the misery of 2016 far in the rearview mirror. What’s more, they’re doing it with youth as 15 players took part in their final home game on Saturday with only four contributing significantly. In other words, Michigan State has shown it can bounce back and it looks like things are only getting better.