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Offensive breakdown: MSU falls apart against Arizona State

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The Michigan State offense not only fell flat against the Sun Devils, but looks problematic going forward.

Arizona State v Michigan State Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images

A week after thinking the Michigan State Spartans had finally found some answers on offense it has been made abundantly clear the questions remain completely valid.

In an absolute dud of a game, the Spartans lost 10-7. While the win could have been obtained with the level of play coming from the offense, it’s impossible to avoid just how bad things were. Unfortunately, Saturday’s loss may linger for weeks to come.

Quarterback

For the second week in a row Brian Lewerke took every snap at quarterback. While Rocky Lombardi briefly ran on the field for a short-yardage play, he was pulled and replaced with Lewerke.

Lewerke put together a relatively respectable statistical game, despite the lack of points. The senior went 24-38 for 291 yards, but also had a costly fumble ending a drive that had already reached Arizona State territory.

The biggest issue from the quarterback play had little to do with how Lewerke actually performed on the field. While he displayed the inconsistency in his accuracy, Lewerke found success in the underneath passing game and crossing routes.

The fatal flaw in Lewerke’s game was his inability to find success on the ASU side of the field. Michigan State crossed the 50-yard line on eight possessions, only scoring once.

At best, Lewerke’s game could be described as “fine.” He was not the reason MSU lost, but was far from the reason they could have won. Whether it was because of his play or a coaching decision, there was no spark in the passing game.

Running Backs

There may have been no more frustrating part of the offensive performance for Michigan State than the coaching surrounding the running game.

A week after earning his spot as the starter with a dominant performance against Western Michigan, Elijah Collins wasn’t given the opportunity to put another stamp on the season. Despite getting the bulk of the carries, 19 of the 25 run calls, the freshman was left off the field in some of the biggest moments of the game.

Collins ran for 72 yards and a touchdown giving a respectable performance. However, three times the Spartans were in a third down situation with four yards or less to gain for a first down and didn’t give Collins an opportunity, including twice in the second half.

The most egregious play came in the third quarter with the Spartans already at the ASU 34. With a shaky kicker, the Spartans decided to go four it on fourth-and-one. However, Connor Heyward took the handoff instead of Collins. The play was stuffed for no gain and ASU took over.

The biggest area of concern with the running game going forward has nothing to do with the actual running backs, but instead how they are being used. The Spartans offense only works with a balanced attack, and keeping the best players off the field in the most important situations actively prevents the running game from being the force it can be.

Wide Receivers

It’s frustrating to look at the overall offensive production and keep coming back with the same analysis of each position group.

Michigan State’s receivers played well, for the most part, but couldn’t make the big play. The biggest complaint with their play is a handful of drops, some of which were made more difficult by a less-than-perfect pass from Lewerke.

Darrell Stewart Jr. remains the quarterback’s favorite target, with nine catches and 121 yards. He also pulled down one of the most impressive catches of the early season.

Cody White and tight end Matt Dotson were also regular targets, both going for roughly 40 yards.

White was able to get open in a few key situations, including the third down play just before the unsuccessful fourth down attempt, where White caught a 13 yard pass.

Offensive Line

Despite not getting much of a push in the running game, the offensive line held its own against a strong Arizona State defensive line.

But the biggest shot to the team going forward is the loss of left tackle Kevin Jarvis for at least six weeks. Jarvis appeared to suffer a right knee injury against ASU. Mark Dantonio said he hopes the tackle can return to the team by November.

That adds to the growing list of injured lineman, with both Cole Chewins and A.J. Arcuri still recovering.

Tyler Higby took over for Jarvis and will be the starter against Northwestern. He will be backed up by freshman Devontae Dobbs.

Last season, the Spartans injury woes started on the offensive line. Then, and likely because of the inexperience on the line, the injury bug spread throughout the offense.

The 2019 Michigan State offense has talent, but not nearly enough to overcome ineffective coaching. The Spartans offense repeatedly shot itself in the foot, with the person on the sideline pulling the trigger.

It wouldn’t be impossible for the Spartans to bounce back next week with a big offensive performance. They did that last year following the ASU loss. But if there is any hope in getting the most out of the tremendous defense, there needs to be more consistency and trust in the key offensive players.