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Michigan State Football: It’s not always going to be pretty — and that’s OK

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Michigan State is winning games with defense and clutch plays.

Indiana v Michigan State Photo by Duane Burleson/Getty Images

The Michigan State Spartans improved to 6-1 on the season with a win over Indiana this past Saturday. The Spartans also improved to 4-0 in conference play and became bowl eligible already.

But if you actually watched the game, it was easy to see how much this team struggled offensively. Michigan State didn’t find the end zone until there was just 5:59 left in the game, and only had three points prior to that point. The second touchdown was scored by way of Indiana backing off and letting L.J. Scott scamper across the goal line in order to get the ball back.

Despite entering the game averaging 192.2 yards on the ground per game, and facing an Indiana defense that was giving up 172.2 yards per game, Michigan State was not able to run the ball effectively. The Spartans only gained 89 rushing yards and 274 total yards.

The passing game didn’t look good, either, and it hasn’t in a while. Brian Lewerke has thrown for 185 yards or less in three straight games. He has failed to surpass 120 yards in two of those contests. Lewerke also did not post a completion percentage better than 55 percent in any of those games. We were blaming it on the weather in the prior contests, but the passing game just may not be there yet.

But you know what? Lewerke didn’t turn the ball over. He, once again, made the plays when it counted. It was an ugly win. But that’s OK.

And he’s well aware of it:

The identity of the Spartans, as it has been so many times in the past, is its elite defense. And this defense can play with the best of them. After Saturday’s win, and Penn State’s trouncing over Michigan, the Spartans now lead the Big Ten in total defense. They are second in the conference in rush defense and third in pass defense. The Spartans now rank in the top-10 in the nation in each category as well.

While the offense did struggle for the majority of the game against Indiana, it was able to make the clutch plays in tough situations. Freshmen wide receivers Cody White and Hunter Rison stepped up in key moments.

This team still has a lot to work on, but it is important to remember the youth of this squad, so that’s expected. While we should have some slight concerns about Lewerke’s arm, the play-calling and fumbling issues, I think it is important to remember how this team has won games. An incredible defense, a strong ground game (for the most part) and a knack for pulling out close games. That has proven to be a winning formula, and I don’t see why it can’t continue to be.

Northwestern is up next. This is a tougher game than most think, on the road in Evanston, Illinois. The Wildcats are coming off of a big win against Iowa. The Northwestern offense ranks fourth in the conference in total offense as well.

That above stat is somewhat misleading, though. Northwestern currently ranks just 92nd in offensive S&P+ rankings. The Wildcats have not been able to run the ball all that effectively. However, since MSU has not faced many high-powered offenses, Northwestern may be the most potent passing attacks the Spartans have seen since conference play began (third in the B1G at 256.9 yards per game). Therefore, while I expect the Michigan State defense to hold strong, the offense may need to score more points this week.

It starts this week. It only gets tougher with Penn State and Ohio State on the docket following this week. Michigan State needs to take care of business against Northwestern. Again, it may not be a pretty win, and that’s just fine, as long as it is a win.

The Michigan State defense can carry this team. But the offense must show improvement.

Also happy birthday, Brian!