Spartan offense looking to match prodigious 2014 totals in ’18

EAST LANSING — Michigan State football was known less for their offense in 2017 and more for their gritty playing style and tough defense. However, the Spartan offense may be ready to take a big leap forward in 2018.

Last season, Michigan State averaged 24.5 points per game (good for tenth in the Big Ten) and 383 yards per game.

The stars seem to have aligned for the Spartans as they have 10 returning starters on offense, which should position them to make a big splash offensively, not only in the Big Ten but on a national scale as well. The Spartans could be set to match their 2014 production, in which they averaged 500 yards and 43 points per game.

“We’re going to find out if this one is similar to 2014,” said Spartan head coach Mark Dantonio on MSU media day. “We’re going to see if we can rise to that occasion and compete.”

Lewerke at the helm

Quarterback Brian Lewerke is set to build off a strong sophomore season in which he threw for 2,793 yards (fifth in the Big Ten), completing 59 percent of his passes along with 561 rushing yards (second-most among Big Ten quarterbacks). If he progresses, Lewerke will be one of the nation’s top dual-threat quarterbacks.

Lewerke has already been considered for some of college football’s top awards, as he was named to the watch list for the Davey O’Brien Award, an award given annually to the top quarterback in the nation. The Arizona native is also on the watch list for the Maxwell Award, which is given to the top player in the nation each year.

With so many starters returning, Lewerke will be at the helm of one what has the potential to be one of the more explosive Spartan offenses in recent memory.

“I feel like we can be very explosive,” junior wide receiver Darrell Stewart said. “It’s going to be very fun watching us.”

You can never have too many (passing) options

2014’s bread and butter was in their passing game, which seems to be the strongest component of this offense going into the 2018 season.

With the Spartans’ top three receivers (senior Felton Davis III, sophomore Cody White and Stewart) all returning, quarterback Brian Lewerke should have plenty of options to throw to.

Davis, the most experienced of the trio, had an impressive 2017, hauling in 55 receptions for 776 yards and played in all 13 of Michigan States’ games.

“We have a very deep receiving corps,” said Lewerke. “I trust all of them to be able to go out there, run the right routes and make plays.”

It’s worth noting that the other two components of the trio are both capable of being No. 1 options at other schools, as Stewart caught 50 passes in 2017 for 501 yards and White brought in 35 receptions for 490 yards. In fact, both had more receiving yards and receptions in 2017 than any returning receiver at Ohio State, who ranks third in the 2018 coaches’ preseason poll.

“One defense can’t just keep their eye on Felton or me or Darrell,” said White. “They have to play normal defense against us, and it’ll just make it easier for us to run routes.”

The receiving corps could be one of the best, not only in the Big Ten but in the nation.

They can run too

Along with Lewerke, running back LJ Scott was also named to the Maxwell Award watch list. Scott rushed for 898 yards on 201 carries and reached the end zone eight times in 2017. If all goes well he should be set for another strong campaign in his senior season.

It’s a little thin behind Scott with Madre London transferring to Tennessee during the offseason. However, sophomore Connor Heyward is projected to get a good amount of snaps. Heyward, though in an extremely small sample size, averaged 3.3 yards per attempt in 2017. However, Heyward seems to have bulked up a bit, as he weighed in at 229 pounds, 11 pounds heavier than he did at the start of 2017, which should help his staying power on the field.

Check back at the start of next week as WDBM kicks off its 2018 college football preview with a look at Michigan State’s roster. The Spartan Red Zone crew will go position-by-position to analyze MSU’s shot at a second Playoff appearance in 2018.