Play in the trenches is what controls football games at any level, but the decision-making of quarterbacks often is the difference between a win and a loss.
Brian Lewerke is going to be the X-factor in this Saturday’s game against the Michigan Wolverines’ highly-vaunted defense.
In fact, Michigan head coach Jim Harbaugh is well aware of Lewerke’s skill set and ability to make plays with both his feet and his arm.
Per MLive, Michigan’s khaki-wearing head man had high praise for Michigan State’s redshirt sophomore quarterback.
"I think he's always been a good quarterback," Harbaugh said Tuesday on the Big Ten coaches' teleconference. "He is definitely getting better and better, and ascending as he goes.
"He's a very talented thrower," Harbaugh added. "Very good arm talent, athletic, has the instincts of a runner and is able to pick up yards as a ball carrier. He has the ability to make the big play."
Lewerke currently ranks fourth in the Big Ten, and in the top-50 in the nation, with 240.8 passing yards per game. He has thrown eight touchdowns to two interceptions, or a ratio of four touchdown passes per every one interception. Lewerke has completed 63.2 percent of his passes and has an efficiency rating of 140.8.
However, as Harbaugh notes, it is not just his arm that is a concern. Lewerke leads the Spartans in rushing yards with 248 rushing yards and two touchdowns on 38 carries. Coming into the season, Michigan State had a highly-touted backfield led by L.J. Scott, but the running backs have struggled immensely. Lewerke has picked up the production there, averaging 6.5 yards per carry and 62 yards per game.
Another article from The Wolverine, Michigan’s Rivals page, quotes Michigan junior safety Tyree Kinnel as saying the following:
“The quarterback is good, he can run and he can throw,” Kinnel said. “We have to stay on our receivers in the secondary because he can throw really well on his feet.
“Just from watching film, the wide receivers keep their routes going when he’s on his feet,” Kinnel said. “He’s constantly looking downfield. I feel like we’re going to have a great chance to get back there and push him out of the pocket a lot during this game, so the secondary needs to stay on the receivers as much as we can.”
Lewerke also gained experience last year against the Wolverines, spelling Tyler O’Connor. I was at that the game, and wanted Lewerke to start. As soon as he came in, it was evident he was a catalyst for the Michigan State offense, until an unfortunate leg injury knocked Lewerke out of the game and ended his season early.
However, that experience is going to bode well for Lewerke’s second chance against Michigan.
"Being able to play, even for a little bit I did - obviously the injury sucked, but I think that helps a lot," Lewerke said of last season’s experience against Michigan.
“I was disappointed in not being able to finish the game, but I'm looking forward to this one."
Dantonio also feels that Lewerke’s experience last year will be helpful for the 2017 tilt.
"I think when you're a quarterback on any college football team, especially at this level, every play that you have is going to help you," Dantonio said. "So every play that he's had this season, every play that he had last season. The experience in that game last season certainly helps him, and he can draw some strength from those things."
This is going to be Lewerke’s toughest test yet, though, and perhaps all season. Nationally, the Michigan defense ranks No. 1 in total yards allowed, No. 2 in passing defense efficiency, No. 1 in sacks per game and No. 4 in passing yards allowed. Not to mention, Michigan also has the top rushing defense in the league, which will likely put the game on Lewerke’s shoulders.
It is imperative that Lewerke doesn’t force things or make bad decisions, à la Notre Dame. Michigan has forced a respectable seven turnovers through four games. As a unit, Michigan State cannot implode like it did in Week 3, giving the ball away or committing stupid penalties. Lewerke’s decision-making is pivotal.
Is it Saturday at 7:30 p.m. yet?