Well well well look who proved me wrong (and in a lot of ways right). The Spartans came out hot in Bloomington, took an early lead and tried not to look back in closing out a hot Indiana team to start B1G play 1-0. There was some good, there was some bad, there was some ugly, but 1-0 is 1-0 and you can never take a conference road win for granted. In the interest of optimism I’ll start with the good, and progress to the ugly so if you want to wear your green lenses all the way to the CFB playoff I’d suggest you stop reading after good.
No the 2nd half didn’t go as planned (more on this later). These MSU receivers are the best I’ve seen across the board since I have watched this program, and frankly it’s not close. Between Felton Davis, Cody White, Darrell Stewart, and breakout star Jalen Nailor, we have all the talent in the world to spread out and beat anybody through the air. I’ll speak more on Brian Lewerke but we can’t doubt his ability to make every throw, make plays with his legs, and keep the Spartans in every game we play.
I wanted to say run defense here, but the defense in general was making plays all evening. Indiana came into the game running the ball extremely well, but in a battle of strength vs strength, MSU prevailed, at 34.5 ypg MSU boasts the strongest run defense in the country. The pass-rush was disruptive all night, while Ramsey made some plays on the run, he was forced out of the pocked frequently, hit frequently, and as a result made some bad decisions with the ball including the pick-6 by Shakur Brown. With the addition of Josiah Scott, this group has the experience and talent to keep most schools outside of Columbus off the board.
Underneath Passing Game (Defense)
This looks like the scouting report against this MSU team so far this season. While the defense is typically fundamentally sound, plays tough, and takes away your ability to establish a drive on the ground, they have shown game after game that you can easily substitute a running game for a quick passing game. Indiana, like Utah State and Arizona State before them, was hitting quick passes left and right near the side line for 5-10 yard chunks. These high percentage throws have really dug away at the defense the same way a good running game would, leading to long drives, forcing players to run sideline to sideline, and allowing a QB to build confidence on easy throws.
Brian Lewerke’s Second Half
I believe this passing game is the only way we have a chance to win games this season. I believe that Brian Lewerke is the perfect quarterback for the job, he’s talented, and just naive enough to believe he can make every throw in the book, a fearlessness that’s an admirable trait in scouting a good quarterback. That being said his willingness to look for a big play every time he touches the ball can get him in trouble as we saw with a few bad decisions in the 2nd half, including a terrible choice to pitch the ball while getting hit on an option play in the 4th quarter. He’s one of those quarterbacks that can lose you a game as quickly as he can win one, a risk I’ll take every time.
You don’t know what you got till it’s gone. Jake Hartbarger’s injury is already proving to be a tough pill to swallow as Tyler Hunt and Bryce Baringer combined for 37.17 yards per punt, a drop-off of over 10 yards from Hartbarger’s 48.8 to start the year (42 last season). With a coaching staff who values field position as highly as Mark Dantonio’s, I can see this proving to be a potentially game-deciding factor as we enter Big Ten play.
The scouting report on Indiana going into this game was that their defense, while tough and talented in the back end, was vulnerable against the run. If you take away Nailor’s 75 yard touchdown, a breath of fresh air in an offense struggling to find big plays, MSU ran for 60 yards on 36 attempts, or 1.7 ypc. If this team wants to make any noise in a tough division, this has to change. It all starts with an offensive line that gets no push and opens no holes, and it ends with the running backs’ inability to “make something out of nothing” and make plays when there’s nothing there. I believe Lewerke can take this team to a lot of wins through his arm, but to truly compete for a conference championship we need a balanced attack predicated on big plays through the run game.