Scouting Report: Michigan State
Before the start of this season, college football observers pointed to Penn State’s scheduling in Weeks 8, 9 and 10 as one of the most difficult three-game stretches any team would face in 2017.
Though the Nittany Lions exacted their revenge on the Michigan Wolverines in Week 8 and just barely fell to the Ohio State Buckeyes in Week 9, they still face another strong test when they head to East Lansing on Saturday to play the No. 24 Michigan State Spartans.
The Spartans are often overlooked in the powerhouse that is the Big Ten East, but they’re now third in the division behind Penn State and Ohio State and have a resume that’s nothing to scoff at.
In addition to handing in-state rival Michigan a loss in the Big House while the Wolverines were still ranked No. 7 in the nation, they won 17-10 against Iowa – a team Penn State beat by just a two points – and 17-9 against Indiana, another legitimate Big Ten team.
Of their two losses, one was to current No. 3 Notre Dame and the other came in triple overtime last week to Northwestern in a game in which the Spartans scored 31 points on four touchdowns and 445 yards from quarterback Brian Lewerke.
In summary, Michigan State is not a team to overlook.
At quarterback, the Spartans are led by the aforementioned sophomore Lewerke, who had a career day at Northwestern.
“He made plays with his feet today as well, he’s a gamer and all I’ve to got to say is he doesn’t get too up or too down, he’s very confident on the field,” Michigan State head coach Mark Dantonio said of Lewerke after their loss to the Wildcats. “He makes plays.”
What Lewerke lacks in game-breaking arm strength he makes up for in moxie on the field and pure athleticism. He’s Michigan State’s second leading rusher on the year with 75 carries averaging 4.6 yards, including a 61-yard touchdown scamper Week 2 against Western Michigan.
In addition to Lewerke on the ground, Michigan State’s rushing attack is led by junior L.J. Scott, who’s averaging 4.5 yards per carry this season but only has one game with over 100 yards – a 194-yard performance against Minnesota. This is because Scott only takes about half of the Spartans’ carries while the other half is divided between to their other running backs, junior Madre London and senior Gerald Holmes.
Averaging 167 rushing yards per game as a team, Michigan State’s running game is to be respected, especially behind a relatively talented offensive line. Still, it isn’t anything that Penn State’s elite defense can’t handle. There’s no J.K. Dobbins equivalent on the Spartans’ roster.
The Spartans’ receiving corps is led by Felton Davis III and Darrell Stewart Jr., two talented wideouts with a lot of potential that wasn’t fully realized until Michigan State’s shootout Saturday against Northwestern.
While the running game carried Mark Dantonio’s offense through the beginning of the season, the Spartans wanted to get their pass catchers more involved, and they did just that against the Wildcats.
Stewart Jr., a sophomore, reeled in 11 passes from Lewerke for 98 yards while Davis III, a junior, had eight receptions for 95 yards and two touchdowns. In addition to those two, the gritty true freshman Cody White burst into a much larger role than he’d had all season with 165 yards and two touchdowns on nine catches.
This 2017 Michigan State defense, as would be expected of team coached by Dantonio, is one of the best in the nation. Before their 39-31 triple-overtime loss to Northwestern, the Spartans were the fourth-ranked overall defense in the nation, coming in at eighth in run-stopping and ninth against the pass.
Dantonio will work hard this week to remedy his defense’s failings from the Northwestern game, which he saw as a lack of quarterback pressure, blown coverages and poor tackling. Don’t expect points to come so easily for Penn State on Saturday.
While the Spartans are certainly an impressive squad, they’re not on the same level as the Nittany Lions in any phase of the game. Penn State will be challenged on Saturday, but they should come away with a win, and quite possibly a convincing one.
Tyler Olson is a sophomore majoring in broadcast journalism and political science. To contact him, email firstname.lastname@example.org.
About the Contributors
Senior / Broadcast Journalism, Political Science
Tyler Olson is a junior majoring in broadcast journalism and political science. He is a student in Centre County Report and a news director for CommRadio. In addition, Tyler covers hockey, basketball and baseball for CommRadio and is a columnist for the Daily Collegian.