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Michigan State struggles with running game against Northwestern

The No. 20 Spartans fell to the Wildcats 29-19 Saturday, leaving questions as to how the team bounces back offensively.

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

EAST LANSING — Michigan State had trouble finding offensive success of any kind their 29-19 Homecoming loss against Northwestern Saturday, especially in the run game. The Spartans finished with 96 rushing yards.

Due to injuries, there has been a lot of inconsistency surrounding quarterback Brian Lewerke and who joins him on the field. This has left a lot of room for “too many missed opportunities,” as head coach Mark Dantonio discussed after the game.

Lewerke said that he is “not sure” about what to do to fix the shortcomings.

“Obviously we could have gotten the running game going a little better than we did today,” said Lewerke. “But I kind of knew what they were going to run every time, what kind of coverages they were going to drop back into. They didn’t really change that much, kind of the same as last year, kind of just kept going three deep.”

What is telling of just how much the Spartans were struggling with their run game: Wide receiver Felton Davis III was the Spartans’ leader in rushing yards with 50. Almost all of them came from a 48 yard touchdown in the third quarter – the first of his career.

Davis said he was told to expect to play more by wide reciever coach Terrence Samuel. That was evident in Saturday’s game.

“I know I left some plays still out there that I wish I could’ve made,” said Davis. “So I just, for the most part, tried to make as many plays as I could.”

The play calling on offense was also far less than perfect, especially in the red zone. The Spartans had two opportunities in Wildcats’ territory to convert on fourth-and-1, but both times they turned it over on downs. That blame for those missed opportunities fell on co-offensive coordinator Dave Warner.

“I definitely would not put it all on him [Warner] at all,” said Lewerke. “Obviously any quarterback and any offensive coordinator have to have a good relationship and I think ours is great.”

Warner was “extremely” upset after the game, taking responsibility for the unsuccessful offense.

“We came into this season with high expectations and with people talking about the potential of this offense,” said Warner. “Potential doesn’t mean anything unless you follow through with it and reach that potential, and obviously we haven’t.”

Next weekend, the Spartans will travel to face No. 11 Penn State. The Nittany Lions have the No. 14 offense in the country, averaging 510 yards per game.

“We’ll find the answers,” said Dantonio. “I feel pretty confident in that.”