Michigan State football: More wait-and-see at QB for Spartans in bowl game
Ever since Michigan State quarterback Brian Lewerke injured his shoulder in the ugly loss to Michigan, it’s been pretty hard to watch the Spartans offense most of the time. Sure, there have been some nice moments, but mostly it’s been a struggle.
In Michigan State’s final six games of the regular season, the dance has gone on at the quarterback position. At times, Lewerke tried to play through the injury, and at other times, redshirt freshman Rocky Lombardi got a shot. There was uncertainty throughout every week, and then less-than-stellar performances from either or both of them on game days.
There is more uncertainty now as the Spartans head into their Dec. 31 bowl game against Oregon. We still don’t know who’s going to play quarterback for Michigan State. Lewerke has said his shoulder feels better, but he can’t comment on whether he’ll take the first snap a week from now.
“I can’t talk about whether I can play or practice, but the rest has helped,” Lewerke said after practice Thursday. “I got an idea in my head (if I can play) right now, but I can’t talk about that.”
The Spartans averaged only 13.3 points and 291.5 yards in its final six games. Lewerke sat out the final two games against Nebraska and Rutgers and a third against Purdue on Oct. 27. The Spartans scored 26 points combined — with just two touchdowns — in their final three games.
Lewerke’s performance was like night and day before and after the injury. He completed 65 percent of his passes before the injury, but in his three starts against Michigan, Maryland and Ohio State, he completed just 37 percent of his passes for 291 yards with no touchdowns and two interceptions. The Spartans went 1-2 in those games, beating only Maryland when the MSU defense shut out the Terrapins.
Lombardi had his moments in his first few tastes of college football. His first start came against a red-hot Purdue team, and he led the Spartans to one of their biggest wins of the year by throwing for 318 yards and two touchdowns in the 23-13 win. But going forward, he struggled. In his other two starts and his two relief appearances, he was just 41 of 106 passing — that’s only a 38.6 percent completion rate — with just one touchdown pass and three interceptions.
In other words, he’s shown some potential, but he also has a long way to go. And that brings us to the most important question heading into the bowl game: Which quarterback gives the Spartans the best chance to win?
If he’s truly 100 percent healthy, there’s no question the answer is Lewerke. But if there’s any doubt about that shoulder, then that changes everything. If he’s still not healthy and there’s further risk to his shoulder, then he shouldn’t be playing. If that’s the case, Lombardi should get the call.
But clearly, we won’t know more until game time because Spartans coach Mark Dantonio has put a muzzle on his quarterbacks. There won’t be any comments that matter before the game starts.
Lewerke certainly wants to play, and he wants to get the Spartans offense moving again, especially since standout running back LJ Scott is going to play one last time for MSU. He missed eight games this season with an ankle injury, and he’s been missed.
“We want to achieve the goals we put out at the beginning of the season, putting up points and running the football,” Lewerke said. “Obviously just getting as many yards as we can, getting plenty of guys the ball. But just points is the main thing, scoring touchdowns, especially in the red zone.”
So who will it be? It looks like we’ll have to wait another week. If Lewerke is healthy, then let him play. But if he’s not, it’s not worth the risk putting him out there. We’ve already seen what happens when he plays with the damaged shoulder, and it wasn’t pretty.
He got those starts out of loyalty, but looking back, it was a mistake. Let’s hope the Spartans don’t make the same mistake again.