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Film Room: Michigan

A perfectly called screen pass, some Lewerke improv, and another sweet blitz helped bring Paul Bunyan back to East Lansing.

NCAA Football: Michigan State at Michigan Mike Carter-USA TODAY Sports

What a game on Saturday night, Michigan State improves to 4-1 and reclaims the Paul Bunyan Trophy in the first ever night game between the two teams. It wasn’t a pretty game, but it was a pretty outcome. Let’s take a look at some film and see what we can learn.

London Screen TD

For all the flack Dave Warner gets, and I give him plenty, this was a tremendous call and I don’t know that I’ve seen a screen play work better than this. It was the right time for it, and it was perfectly executed.

Michigan State is 1st and 10 in the red zone at the UM 16 yard line. They come out shotgun with London in the backfield next to Lewerke. Davis is the lone receiver out wide to the top. Stewart is in the backfield on the right side of the formation along with Colin Lucas the fullback.

They are going to fake the hand-off to London initially, and he will wander into the line of scrimmage. Stewart will come around and get the second fake hand-off on the end around. They have already given it to Stewart twice on similar plays at this point, the first one got them 10 yards, the second was strung out for no gain.

The fullback pulls across the formation to block, while the tight end on the near side goes out a few yards and then helps block once the ball is thrown.

The three circled linemen all block for a moment before releasing.

This is just as Lewerke is winding up to release after the two fakes. There are already four UM defenders beyond the point of no return (red line). In the defensive backfield, the three circled defenders are all in bad shape, with one of them not even looking towards the near side, and another with his eyes on Stewart. Only the middle defender hasn’t yet committed to a direction but he’s still late to recognize what’s happening.

Meanwhile London (yellow circle), already has his convoy set up and is turning around to receive the ball.

Here’s the moment London starts to turn up field after catching the ball. The three closest, and really only, defenders in the play are our friends from the red circle above. But there are three Spartans right around them, including the fullback and tight end, and two blockers around London.

In front of London is wide open space and an escort of two of his biggest friends. This play is over already. Bask in all its glory with the full video here.


Last week we broke down one of the blitz plays against Iowa on third down. Well we’ve got more of the same for you this week. The Spartans had four sacks on the day but got a lot of pressure that didn’t result in a sack that led to bad throws or throw aways. Here we see one of those four sacks that came off a very nice blitz.

It’s second and one for UM just shy of midfield. But the Wolverines are out of timeouts so it’s an obvious passing situation as they are trying to get into scoring range before the end of the half.

Like the play we showed you last week, MSU has just two down linemen. The two outside rushers on the edge are upright and both of them rush, along with the two down linemen.

The Spartans also bring pressure off the near side with the slot defensive back blitzing. The linebackers give nothing away pre-snap, but what is going to happen is the one to the near side is going to drop into coverage in the middle of the field, while Bachie blitzes to the far side.

Michigan has a tight end off the line near side as well as a back in the backfield. They both stay in to block. So it’s six rushers against seven blockers.

And they almost pick it up. The tight end helps off the near side to neutralize the bitz from there, and four of the MSU rushers are pretty much handled. But the tailback also comes to help on the near side, where he is not needed, leaving Bachie with an open lane to the quarterback.

He comes in full speed, wraps up and brings him down for the sack.

Lewerke improvises

We have gotten used to seeing Lewerke make plays with his legs, but what is really impressive is that most of his best running plays have come when he is scrambling, or improvising, rather than on designed runs. There have certainly been some successful designed plays, but Lewerke has shown good decision making when it comes to when to pull it down and run.

Here is the first touchdown of the game. It is 2nd and 13 after a penalty, and MSU comes out in shotgun in an obvious passing situation. The pressure comes fairly quickly, but Lewerke recognizes the unblocked rusher coming, as well as the opening running lane.

Lewerke steps up and takes off. Instead of just running for the sideline away from the pursuit from his right, he cuts it back up the middle of the field.

The cut back to the middle of the field allows him to get all the way to here before the defensive backs in coverage can really react. At this point he has made up his mind, he’s going for the end zone. He dives in for six, all off a pass play that was well covered and a pass rush that came quickly. That is something that is just tough to game plan against on defense.

Now here’s the key third down pickup on the last drive.

It’s third and three and Michigan has nine men in the box within three yards of the line of scrimmage. MSU has a jumbo package in and most of the personnel to the right side.

Lewerke fumbles the snap which looked liked was going to include a fake to Holmes. I believe the play was designed for Lewerke to run left after the fake to the running back, and because of that, the play wasn’t completely blown up from here.

Tyler Higby comes down and is supposed to lock the UM defender coming off the left edge. Holmes picks up the guy coming up the middle.

The right side blocking breaks down, and five Michigan defenders are on their way. But the left side is fairly open, outside of the lone defender off the edge. Higby is able to get there in time to cause just enough of a problem to allow Lewerke time to pick up the ball and make a quick decision about where to go.

Lewerke reads the situation perfectly and once again, cuts it right up the middle, using Higby’s block perfectly to get past the defender.

Now look at where Lewerke is when he starts this run. He is seven yards behind the line of scrimmage. He needs to pick up 10 yards from here to convert.

Even here he is several yards behind the line. He tries to use the block in front of him, but he is going to be dragged down behind by the red circled defender. He catches him right at the line as Lewerke is once again attempting to dive for the mark.

We all know what happened, he was taken down on top of Brian Allen and rolled forward for the first down. Full play here.

There was obviously a level of luck with Lewerke coming down initially on Allen, allowing him to roll past the sticks. But the fact that he was even able to get into that position considering where the play started is pretty impressive.

There will likely be times that Lewerke tries too hard to make a play on third down or in a big spot and it backfires, but for the most part he has shown a knack for converting in key spots. He finds a way either how the play is designed, or just as often, by improvising.

That is a wrap for this week. This was an ugly but beautiful win for Michigan State, and that is just fine with everyone back in East Lansing.