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Offensive Breakdown: Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde

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The Michigan State offense woke up again against Northwestern, but consistency remains the biggest issue for the Spartans.

NCAA Football: Michigan State at Northwestern Matt Marton-USA TODAY Sports

Despite scoring 31 points in a conference road win over Northwestern, it’s difficult to feel overly confident in the Michigan State Spartans offense.

That learned helplessness is warranted. The 2018 Spartans outpaced this year’s team, putting up 35 points in a Big Ten win a game after scoring 13 points in a loss to Arizona State.

At this point in the season, it appears to just be a matter of which offensive unit shows up. Fortunately, everything seemed to click Saturday. Now it’s just a matter of doing everything all over again.

Quarterback

There may be no one more representative of the entire offense than Brian Lewerke. When the senior quarterback is on, he’s among the best play makers in the conference. When he’s not, well, things can get ugly in a hurry.

Lewerke’s performance Saturday was a resounding “good.” Overall, he had a fine day, with a strong stat-line and lead a winning performance. But there is no question that things were left on the table. He finished 18-31 for 228 yards and three touchdowns with no turnovers.

The biggest issue is still his accuracy. Far too often wide-open receivers are missed, stalling a successful drive. Even on completions, Lewerke’s inability to put the ball in a position that allows his receivers to run after the catch limits what this offense can do.

With that being said, however, Lewerke did play well. He lead a drive right before halftime to change the outlook of the game, throwing a touchdown pass under pressure to give MSU a 14-3 lead at the break. He made a similarly difficult touchdown pass later in the game.

Lewerke is showing growth, he’s moving in the pocket without going into a full scramble. He’s spreading the ball around, three different players caught at least four passes. Most importantly, he didn’t turn the ball over at all against Northwestern, allowing those drives to finish in the end zone.

Backup quarterback Rocky Lombardi did see the field this week and not in a gadget capacity. With the game well out of reach, Lombardi took over, but only to hand the ball off on every down.

Running Backs

Elijah Collins is the man in the MSU backfield.

The freshman has continued to prove why he’s the featured back, going for 76 yards on 17 carries and scoring a touchdown. He also caught a pass for nine yards, which would be an exciting addition to his game.

Collins doesn’t feature blazing speed, but he has shown patience and field vision that should look familiar to Spartans fans. He has also been a reliable option to keep the offense on the field, taking pressure off of the defense.

If his growth continues, he can become something of a closer for MSU. If he can take over fourth quarters, preventing the Spartans defense from getting tired and even putting an exclamation point on a win, the Spartans can win some of the close games they dropped last season.

Fellow freshman Anthony Williams Jr., a Chicago native, received the next most touches with seven runs for only two yards. Most of which came in cleanup duty at the end of the game.

Connor Heyward and La’Darius Jefferson both took three handoffs for 17 and three yards respectively. Heyward followed up a frustrating performance against ASU with a few strong runs, one breaking for nine yards.

Receivers and Tight Ends

It appears that Darrell Stewart Jr. has fully taken over the Felton Davis role in the MSU offense.

Stewart again lead the team with five catches and 77 yards. He was the safety valve for Lewerke and was trusted in key situations to convert first downs. Stewart can be inconsistent, but his best asset is his ability to get lost in a secondary and open after an initial burst.

Cody White received the next most catches and yards, four for 70, and was on the receiving end of the late second quarter touchdown. White has the best hands on the team and is the best option to make a play in traffic. Unfortunately, that also means he gets the most attention from opposing defenses. If Stewart continues to emerge, White’s numbers should go up, and his explosive plays should be more regular.

The surprise of the day for MSU came from tight end Matt Seybert who was only playing due to a previously unknown injury to Matt Dotson. Seybert filled the role extremely well, with two of his four catches going for touchdowns. The former walk-on earned a scholarship for the rest of the season this week after his two-touchdown performance.

Seybert isn’t the explosive playmaker that Dotson can be, but he ran crisp routes all game long and could be a huge additional threat for MSU in play-action.

Offensive line

A week after things looked like they may have gone full disaster, the offensive line had a strong game.

Days after the team found out Kevin Jarvis would be out for the majority of the rest of the season, a young o-line proved more than capable. They pushed forward for 109 rushing yards, while allowing two sacks.

Despite the apparent success, the line can best be described as “good enough.” There wasn’t anything glaringly wrong with how they played, but the bigger concern is how they will perform against bigger and stronger defenses.

Fortunately, there is still some time before they will be tested. Until then, “good enough” is a big step forward.

The Spartans offense turns its attention to the Indiana Hoosiers, who they will square off with Saturday afternoon in East Lansing. MSU will go into the game as the clear favorite, but the offense will need to prove itself once again.

So far this year, the Indiana defense has been a little tough to read. In two of their three wins they were able to hold the opponent to three points or less. But against a struggling Ball State team, they allowed 24 points. Even uglier, their lone loss on the year saw OHio State put up 51 points.

This will be the first road game for Indiana. When the IU defense has struggled it was in large part through the air, eventually opening running lanes. The Spartans should be able to use both to attack the defense this week, but will need early success from Lewerke to set the tone.