With the season officially in the books it is time to look back on the 2017 season, and what a fun one it was. Michigan State got off the mat after a disastrous 2016 campaign and reminded everyone that Coach Dantonio’s crew isn’t going anywhere.
So here is my top ten list of plays, moments, and stats from the football season. Hope you all enjoyed it as much as I did.
10. Tyson Smith Interception Return TD
Nine months after suffering a stroke, MSU cornerback Tyson Smith was back on the field during the Spartans season opener against Bowling Green. And it was Smith that put the exclamation point on that season opening victory by returning an interception 38 yards for a touchdown.
It was the perfect feel good story to kick off the year after an off-season filled with turmoil.
9. Felton Davis TD Catch at Northwestern
Even though Michigan State would end up losing the game in triple overtime, Felton Davis’ touchdown catch to send the game to overtime was one of the best individual plays of the season. The catch came with 25 seconds left in the game and MSU needing a touchdown to force OT. Davis went up over the defender to get his hands on the ball and then secured it while going to the ground and got a knee down in bounds.
At the time it felt like if MSU could get the game to overtime they would be able to pull it out. Unfortunately that was not the case, but the play by Davis remains one of the best of the year and at the time was one of the most exciting moments of the season.
8. Time of Possession Record
This is technically an unofficial record since the NCAA doesn’t officially track time of possession for a single game, but it is still amazing. The Spartans had the ball for 47:50 in their season finale against Rutgers. It was more than two minutes better than the previous known mark set by Air Force in 2015.
Time of possession is always something the Spartans want to dominate, and they were able to do that throughout the season, finishing third in the country averaging over 35 minutes per game. That is their best mark since they led the country in that stat back in 2014.
7. Homecoming Comeback
The week before the loss at Northwestern looked like it was headed for an unhappy homecoming in East Lansing. The Spartans struggled mightily on offense against a solid, but not great Indiana defense. When Griffin Oakes connected on a field goal with 12:29 to go in the game the Spartans were down six and staring at a brutal home loss.
But as would become commonplace, Brian Lewerke and company were able to make enough plays when they needed to. A ten yard pass from Lewerke to Davis capped off a seven play, 55 yard touchdown drive to give the Spartans a 10-9 lead with about six minutes to go.
The defense would then force a three-and-out and give the ball back to the MSU offense. Lewerke would convert two big third down throws to set MSU up at the Indiana 18 yard linewith under two minutes to play. From there it was LJ Scott taking it to the house to put the final nail in the Hoosiers coffin and give the Spartans a fourth straight win.
6. LJ Scott Returns for Senior Year
It was an up and down season for the MSU running back, who was plagued by fumble issues early in the year, and some inconsistency throughout the season. But there is no doubt that he is the most talented back on the roster and has a chance to put up a monster game at any moment.
Scott finished his season with a 110 yard, two touchdown game in the Holiday Bowl and many believed was on his way to the draft. Not so fast my friend. Right after the game Scott announces on TV that he is coming back for his senior year and later confirmed that to various reporters in the locker room.
Scott’s return is huge for an MSU offense that will return almost all their key parts. And Scott has a chance to put up a monster senior year.
As he enters his final year at MSU, Scott ranks 11th in career attempts, and 12th in rushing yards and touchdowns. He has a really good chance to finish in the top five in all three of those categories with a solid senior season.
5. Lewerke’s Development
Speaking of people putting their name in the Spartan record books, let’s talk about the emergence of Brian Lewerke as the next great Spartan quarterback. It wasn’t always pretty for the red-shirt sophomore from Arizona, but the results were about as good as you could ask for.
Lewerke proved himself to be a legit dual threat quarterback for MSU, throwing for almost 2,800 yards while rushing for 562 yards. He joined Drew Stanton as the only Spartan quarterback to have a season like that, and his 3,360 total yards were the second best in school history behind Stanton’s 3,415 in 2005.
Lewerke had 25 total touchdowns this year, while throwing just six interceptions and completed almost 60% of his pass attempts.
Most importantly, he had a knack for making a big play at key moments, both with his feet, and arm. With a talented crop of young receivers and LJ Scott coming back next year, Lewerke could take the Spartan offense back to the heights of the 2014 season.
4. Return of the Spartan Dawgs Defense
Despite the playoff run in 2015, the Michigan State defense really hadn’t been the same fearsome group that they had established during the early part of the decade. MSU finished as a top ten team in total defense every year from 2011 to 2014.
This year, the Spartan D got their swagger back. They are currently seventh in total defense and number two in rushing defense. If Georgia can put up 142 yards on the ground against Alabama in the championship game, the Spartans will finish with the nation’s top rushing defense. This will be their fifth season in the last seven years being a top-10 rush defense and the third time finishing first or second since 2013.
After getting shredded by Ohio State in Columbus, MSU finished the season allowing 121 total rushing yards in their final three games of the year. They allowed only two of their final 10 opponents to rush for more than 100 yards.
3. Holiday Bowl Win
The win for Michigan State in the Holiday Bowl was a perfect cap to a great bounce back season. The Spartans knocked off their third ranked (at the time of the game) opponent of the season in convincing fashion with a 42-17 win in San Diego.
The win gave MSU their sixth 10-win season in the last eight years, and was the 100th win as Michigan State coach for Mark Dantonio.
Only one other coach in MSU history has 100+ wins, the legendary Duffy Daugherty. With another 10-win season next year Mark Dantonio would become the all-time winningest coach in Michigan State football history. His .682 winning percentage is the second best among any coach since MSU joined the Big Ten, and his .654 conference winning percentage is the best in school history outside of Biggie Munn who was 5-1 in one season in the Big Ten.
The Holiday Bowl win was also the fifth bowl win for Mark Dantonio. The school had seven bowl wins when he arrived in East Lansing.
The game also gave a glimpse of what next year could look like for the Spartans. With a potentially prolific offense catching up to an already stout defense, things could be very fun in East Lansing next year.
2. Walk-Off Win Over Penn State
In what was their signature win of the season, Michigan State knocked off seventh ranked Penn State on a Matt Coghlin 34-yard field goal as time expired. The game was marked with a lengthy lightning delay and was played in varying conditions throughout the day. But in the end it was the Spartans coming out victorious with the 27-24 win.
The victory meant that the Spartans would essentially be playing for a trip to Indianapolis the following week against Ohio State in Columbus. Coming off a 3-9 season with one conference win, the Spartans would be playing for a chance at the Big Ten title in mid-November. Quite the turnaround.
Things didn’t go so well in Columbus though, and let us never speak of that game again. Instead let’s get on to our top moment of the year…
1. Beating Michigan in Ann Arbor
While Penn State was the more marquee win, Michigan State’s win in Ann Arbor against their rival on October 7th earns our top spot on the list for a couple of reasons. First off, beating your rival is always sweet. And beating them after listening to their fans bury your program for the better part of a year is even sweeter still.
The win also really catapulted MSU’s season from “nice start” to “contender” status. At the time Michigan was undefeated, ranked seventh in the country, and being talked about as a possible playoff team. As it turns out, MSU would be the team playing for a conference title into mid-November while the Wolverines would finish their season losing three straight games.
The win over Michigan was the eighth in the last ten years for the Spartans and the fourth win in their last five games in Ann Arbor. Mark Dantonio has never lost consecutive games to Michigan.
By the end of the season MSU would reclaim three of their rivalry trophies, bringing back Paul Bunyan, the Old Brass Spittoon, and the Land Grant Trophy to the banks of the red cedar.
So that is my list. I’m sure there are other moments that may have stuck out for you. This was such a fun season, there was a lot to enjoy. And like Mark Dantonio has said, this is only the beginning.