To call the offensive output from Week 2 against Arizona State a “letdown” would be a massive understatement. The Michigan State Spartans managed just three scoring drives, only once finding the end zone, for a measly 13 points.
After a performance like that, there is plenty of blame to go around. However, after the bye week to settle things, the focus is turned to this week’s game against the Indiana Hoosiers.
At some point, the handcuffs are going to need to be taken off of Brian Lewerke. The junior quarterback has strong completion percentage, 69-percent, but only for an average of 8.3-yards per completion. The offense has struggled to get yards in chunks, allowing defenses to press-up.
In some sense, the reluctance to push the quarterback’s passing ability is understandable. Lewerke threw another painful interception, made that much worse because it came in the Arizona State end zone. He also put the ball on the ground again, but was fortunate enough to get it back.
However, without opening up the offense, teams get more opportunities to take advantage of a Lewerke mistake. Most of those mistakes come from what could be seen as a positive for Lewerke – his ability to keep plays alive. The second-year starter has yet to learn that a taking a sack can often times be better than throwing the ball up for grabs.
That is a lot of negatives. But that’s only because Lewerke has shown the ability to be a high-end quarterback. At his best, he can be a playmaker who can put up points with the best in the Big Ten. But until the offense opens up, it’s hard to feel too much confidence in the signal-caller.
Despite the low point total, there is plenty to be excited about when it comes to the Spartans running backs and wide receivers – as long as they are healthy.
Cody White, Felton Davis III and Darrell Stewart Jr. all had at least five catches for at least 50 yards, with White leading the team in both categories (nine for 113). Davis has already proven that he is still the go-up-and-get-it receiver for MSU, capable of making any highlight catch. White has become the safety-blanket and is a huge third-down threat. The biggest surprise has been Stewart, who is a true third receiver to theoretically spread an opposing secondary thin.
However, the receivers either aren’t getting open or aren’t getting the ball down-field. They haven’t been able to take the top off of any defense yet.
The backfield has been a little more influx. LJ Scott has done a good job of running hard, but a lack of running lanes has kept him bottled up – averaging only 3.4 yards-per-carry. Connor Heyward has had more success running on the edges and is giving MSU something of a thunder-and-lightning running attack. Unfortunately, Scott left the Arizona State game early in the second half and never returned. Mark Dantonio left his status unanswered for this weekend.
Freshman La’Darius Jefferson played well when pushed into action, but expecting the same performance from him that the team expects from Scott is asking way too much.
At this point, the best thing to say about the offensive line is that the group knows it can be better. The three returning starters from last year’s team that have played so far look much worse than they did in 2017.
Simply put, the offensive line has been bad.
Junior Cole Chewins has yet to really play for the Spartans, and it’s still unsure as to when the left tackle will be fully healthy. Getting that shored up will do a lot to help the brutal offensive line, but it won’t fix everything. The Spartans are still trying to find a full-time center, although it looks more and more like the job may default to Matt Allen.
The line hasn’t created anything resembling a running lane and Lewerke has been sacked five times. While all of the quarterback and offensive issues can’t be blamed on the line, even playing at an average level would do a lot to level things off.
Indiana has done a solid job against Michigan State the last two seasons. Tom Allen’s defense kept Michigan State to just three scoring drives in 2016, and kept them out of the end zone through the first three quarters last year.
The Hoosiers are undefeated and have kept their last two opponents to under 20 points. Granted, neither team has the offensive firepower that Michigan State should have.
Indiana has been much better against the pass than the run. Teams are averaging 187-yards against the IU defense, more than three-times higher than what MSU has averaged in two games. Hopefully this means the Spartans backs can find a grove and take some pressure off of the passing game.
Things have been more difficult through the air. The most Indiana has allowed through the air so far this season has been 157 yards in Week 1.
To make matters worse, Indiana has recovered three fumbles and intercepted a pair of passes in their three games. Holding onto the ball will likely be the difference in Saturday night’s game.