Entering this season, there were talks that if the Michigan State Spartans had another down year, coach Mark Dantonio may be gone from East Lansing once 2018 rolls around. Instead of heating his seat, Dantonio instead flipped the script throughout the 2017 season.
After easily defeating the Rutgers Scarlet Knights 40-7 on Saturday, Michigan State finished the regular season 9-3. That means, the Spartans figuratively flipped the script, as they went 3-9 in 2016. Now, that is one heck of turnaround because a lot of people around the country thought the Spartans could only win six games at most this year.
Now, some may wonder how Dantonio and company were able to complete such a turn around because a lot of the personal they worked with last season was the same players they relied on this year.
Michigan State brought back the likes of running backs LJ Scott and Gerald Holmes, and linebacker Andrew Dowell. But the main difference from this year from last year was quarterback Brian Lewerke.
Last season, the Spartans’ quarterback situation was a roller coaster. At first it was Tyler O’Connor, then Damion Terry, and then back to O’Connor. But in 2017, it was all Lewerke. And that proved to be fruitful for Michigan State.
Throughout the season Lewerke was effective through the air and on the ground. In a 14-10 win over rival Michigan, Lewerke threw for 340 yards and two touchdowns, while rushing for 56 yards. Then against Penn State, Lewerke tossed for 400 yards and two scores. And against Rutgers, he kept on showing on why the Spartans were able to complete such a turnaround.
Against Rutgers, Lewerke completed 67.7 percent of his passes for 222 yards, one touchdowns, while adding 56 yards and a score on the ground. If not for Lewerke, Michigan State’s offense probably wouldn’t have produced much against the Scarlet Knights.
To add significance to Lewerke’s performance, in the first half, the quarterback had 106 yards passing and 31 yards rushing. That first half performance gave Lewerke 2,928 yards total offense at the time. That also means Lewerke had the most total yards for a sophomore in Spartan history, breaking Connor Cook’s previous record of 2,831 yards.
With his 106 yards passing & 31 yards rushing in 1st half, Brian Lewerke now has 2,928 yards of total offense, which are the most yards by a MSU sophomore, passing Connor Cook (2013, 2,831 yards), and moving up to No. 6 overall on MSU’s single-season total offense list. #GoGreen
— Spartan Football (@MSU_Football) November 25, 2017
While Lewerke was effective and made the Michigan State machine go, there were times that he was ineffective. Against Ohio State and Maryland, Lewerke completed less than 40 percent in both of those games. In fact, against the Terrapins, the young signal caller only completed 14.3 percent of his passes. So obviously, he still needs to work on his consistency.
Now, Michigan State’s turnaround isn’t just Lewerke, obviously. Football is a team sport. The Spartans defense was a major factor as well. Entering Saturday’s game against the Scarlet Knights, Michigan State possessed the No. 16 total defense. However, Lewerke is the largest factor as in way the Spartans have the record they do.
Yes, at times Lewerke looked shaky. But in his first regular season as a starter, he was a stud. Lewerke finished the regular season with 2,580 passing yards and 17 touchdowns. While also adding five scores on the ground. Imagine what he can do next year with another full off-season underneath his belt. With the likes of Penn State quarterback Trace McSorley and Ohio State signal caller J.T. Barrett departing, Lewerke could be the top gunslinger in the conference next year. So, watch out B1G.
With the win over Rutgers, Lewerke and company have set themselves up nicely for a potential New Year’s Six bowl game. Remember, Michigan State did defeat its top competitor Penn State for that chance behind the loser of the B1G Championship game (either Wisconsin or Ohio State).
Flip the script, that’s exactly what Michigan State did thanks to Lewerke. But since Lewerke still having two years of eligibility left, depending if stays through his senior season, the B1G should expect the Spartans to be conference contenders as long as Lewerke is under center.