The Michigan State Spartans had their 14th practice, and third scrimmage, of the spring football season. For the third straight year, the format for the annual Green-White scrimmage was offense versus defense. The defense prevailed 42-26.
While the offensive scoring is traditional, head coach Mark Dantonio’s once again implemented his unique defensive scoring system. The defense is awarded three points every five minutes, as well as points for turnovers, red-zone stops, fourth down stops and defensive touchdowns.
The scrimmage was also our first look at the offense under new coordinator Brad Salem.
Here are five quick takeaways from our first look at the 2019 Spartans football team:
1. Brian Lewerke looks healthy and focused
Lewerke has said multiple times that he has recovered from the shoulder issue that ailed him for the majority of the 2018 season. The senior completed 14 of 20 passes for 181 yards, two touchdowns and one pick. Despite heavy winds in East Lansing, Lewerke showed good velocity and touch on his throws. He connected on a very nice 10-yard touchdown strike to Darrell Stewart to the left corner of the end-zone, as well as a 50-yard screen pass to Connor Heyward. It should be noted that Lewerke was not solely going up against the first-string defense the entire day, but by all accounts he seems to be poised for a much better 2019 season. Rocky Lombardi completed nine of 22 passes for 119 yards with one touchdown and one interception. Redshirt freshman Theo Day connected on just four out of 12 passes for 28 yards.
2. The defense remains elite
This isn’t much of a surprise, but without Kenny Willekes (broken fibula), the defense remains strong. As mentioned, the defense was the winning unit on the day. It was actually redshirt freshman linebacker Chase Kline who led the way with eight total tackles, while junior defensive end Jacub Panasiuk had seven tackles. Joe Bachie, Tyriq Thompson and Dominique Long had six tackles each. Redshirt freshman Zach Slade made a statement with an interception and a fumble recovery, while junior cornerback Josiah Scott had an interception as well. Kalon Gervin, the highest-rated recruit in the 2018 class, had a nice day as well with three tackles, a pass breakup and strong coverage overall. Noah Harvey added a “sack (can’t actually hit the quarterback),” while Naquan Jones and Terry O’Connor each forced a fumble.
3. Contrary to popular belief, there are playmakers on this offense...
Watching the Spartans offense in 2018 was about as exciting as watching paint dry. But Saturday’s spring game may have given us some hope. Wide receivers Darrell Stewart and Jalen Nailor looked sharp. Stewart caught five passes for 82 yards and two scores, including the aforementioned touchdown from Lewerke, as well as a 31-yard strike from Rocky Lombardi. Speedy Nailor hauled in four catches for 42 yards. True freshman running back Anthony Williams — who Dantonio has praised throughout the spring — ran the ball nine times for 26 yards and caught three balls for 19 yards. He showed off good versatility and elusiveness and could very well find himself on the field this fall. Fellow running backs Connor Heyward, Elijah Collins and La’Darius Jefferson combined for 136 total yards. Cody White had a quiet day with two catches for 24 yards, but will be a big part of the 2019 offense.
4. Offensive line still has its problems
Catch-22: All five of last year’s starters return, but last year’s offensive line really struggled. Bad snaps, communication errors and an abysmal running game did not inspire much confidence going forward. Granted, Michigan State returns the majority of starters from last year’s No. 1 ranked rushing defense, and a lot of talent on the depth chart. But still, this is the one area I think fans were hoping for the most improvement in, and while there is still a whole summer to prepare, fans likely remain skeptical at best following Saturday’s showing. Of course, there were different o-line groupings today as well. New offensive line coach Jim Bollman will have plenty of things to draw from on film and hopefully correct. The one positive was in pass protection where only one “sack” was given up, but nobody was really going after the quarterbacks, either.
5. New look secondary still very talented
While Michigan State is losing Justin Layne and Khari Willis to the NFL, the defensive backfield should still be a strong unit. MSU quarterbacks completed just 50 percent of passes against the defense, with the two picks. Scott now takes over as the lockdown cornerback of the group, and as mentioned he had a very nice interception. Scott added three tackles and a pass breakup. Josh Butler steps in for Layne and has plenty of experience. I previously mentioned that Gervin looked strong, but Shakur Brown had a very nice day as well with three tackles and three pass breakups. Tre Person is also competing for playing time. The ballhawk free safety David Dowell returns while Xavier Henderson is expected to take over for Willis as strong safety. I expect this to be a tough team to pass on.
Injuries: Linebackers Jeslord Boteng and Dante Razzano left the game with injuries, while Willekes, Jack Camper, Cole Chewins, Jack Camper, Ed Warriner and Antjuan Simmons sat out the entire game.
What were your takeaways from the spring game? Let us know in comments.