Michigan State: Five things we learned vs. Rutgers

Lynn Henning
The Detroit News

Here are five takeaways from The Detroit News' Lynn Henning following Michigan State's 40-7 victory over Rutgers Saturday.

LJ Scott (3) of the Michigan State Spartans tries to break free from the line against the Rutgers Scarlet Knights. MSU won 40-7 to finish the regular season 9-3.

Spartans make the most of their resources

How many All-Big Ten players would a talent-snoop find on Mark Dantonio’s 2017 team?

A handful. Maybe.

And yet the Spartans are 9-3, having beaten teams with plenty more NFL-grade talent.

They play team football. They stick to their jobs. They come as close to maximizing their athleticism as perhaps any team in Dantonio’s time at Michigan State.

Saturday’s walloping of Rutgers, 40-7, on the road, was a portrait of how a team with good but not great players gets it done. They hung onto the football, they swarmed on defense, and they used their skill players deftly in what could have gone down as a toast to four quarters of football efficiency.

Opponents help, of course. Rutgers is a Big Ten lightweight. But neither did the Spartans get sloppy with the ball. Apart from some early penalties, this game was a testament to MSU’s 2017 football economy.

Ground game needed

The Spartans have had their moments running against lines of scrimmage that can’t hold up to MSU’s heft. But it’s a rare event. And it makes anyone wonder about consequences when the Spartans meet what’s bound to be a rugged Jan. 1 bowl enemy.

MSU got 209 yards rushing against the Scarlet Knights. LJ Scott had 54 yards in 18 carries. Math whizzes will note that’s an average of three yards per tote.

The Spartans’ offensive line is young, and youth rarely shows up on a football field as noticeably as when youngsters are spread across the offensive front.

Michigan State will try and mix enough plays on enough possessions, thanks to its phalanx of fine receivers, to offset its inability to throw a ground punch. Next season, a more seasoned line should make a difference. But for now, running the ball is a chore.

More: Henning: How Mark Dantonio lifted MSU from the ashes

Lewerke has more targets

In fact, QB Brian Lewerke’s targets largely have been there all season. Felton Davis has been a mainstay, followed by stage debuts from Cody White and Hunter Rison. Darrell Stewart Jr. has terrific hands and caught five passes. Scott can snag a pass, of course, and so, apparently, can freshman RB Connor Heyward, who grabbed a Lewerke TD pass.

It’s noteworthy that Lewerke’s progressions have improved and that he now seems more inclined to visit his tight end. Matt Sokol and Noah Davis each caught a pass, as did WRs Trishton Jackson and Cam Chambers, not to mention RBs Gerald Holmes and Madre London.

It helps, of course, if you’re playing a Rutgers team that doesn’t feature pass rushers on the level of Ohio State. But getting the ball to those third-choice receiving options can make an enormous difference, as it did Saturday.

Coghlin is money

Kicker Matt Coghlin had four field-goal tries Saturday: two from 26 yards, one from 32 and one from 46. He nailed them all to go along with four extra points, minus blemish.

You never know about kickers. They can have their moments, their interludes. But he is now 15 of 19 on field goals for 2017 and is perfect in 32 point-after kicks.

He is a freshman. Coghlin has the leg and the cool to be a weapon in East Lansing for a very long time.

December practices will be gold

This is a terribly young team, although use the word “terrible” advisedly in any English language application when it comes to MSU’s 2017 football squad.

The great plus to winning a bowl ticket, beyond sunshine and fun, is gaining luster and savvy throughout December’s added practices.

This is where you get a jump on 2018.

The Spartans need any overtime shifts they can pull ahead of their bowl game. They want to look like they belong. And those December workouts are going to be essential, not only to playing competitively on Jan. 1 but because of the edge it should provide in tuning up for 2018.