As No. 16 Michigan State inches past the midpoint of 2017, a year that has caught East Lansing and the college football world by surprise, Impact Sports is compiling midseason report cards and comparing them to our preseason predictions and assessments, mainly in an attempt to see how wrong we were about the much-improved Spartans.
The 2016 Spartan offense was pretty terrible by any method one can consider. Statistics, the eye test, whatever you name it: MSU couldn’t move the ball effectively. Coming into this year, our staff was apprehensive about the ability on the offensive side of the ball.
Preseason grade: C+
Mid-season grade: B
Well, I was slightly off here. Brian Lewerke has reeled off a 61-yard touchdown run, a 50-yard quarterback sneak and was the leading rusher in a few of MSU’s early games. Lewerke’s playmaking with his feet is slightly ahead of his accuracy throwing the football, but that is more a testament to his running ability than his decision-making while throwing.
The changes to the receiving corps make a lot of this statement null and void, as Trishton Jackson has not lived up to the preseason hype so far. That said, Lewerke has shown flashes of arm strength. A couple of throws a game seem like pinpoint, NFL-level passes that Connor Cook or Kirk Cousins made early in their careers as well.
Outside of Notre Dame and Minnesota, Lewerke has avoided costly interceptions as well. He still does throw the occasional duck, but the problems of throwing balls at receivers’ feet while on the run has improved from the first couple of weeks. Throwing on the run is still a bit of a problem for Lewerke–he missed an open Laress Nelson for a touchdown on the opening drive against Indiana last Saturday–but those kinds of skills will progress over time. Lewerke isn’t winning games on his own yet, but he’s not losing them either–a solid start to a promising career.
Preseason grade: B+
Mid-season grade: B
Joey Ellis picked out a solid comparison for the last two weeks of play from LJ Scott as the featured back in MSU’s offense. Fumbles plagued Scott for the first few weeks of the season, as a major turning point in the Spartans’ loss to Notre Dame was Scott’s touchdown-turned-fumble. If Scott suffers a high-profile fumble against Penn State or Ohio State, I’d hate to see what the reaction from the fanbase is given his current off-the-field situation.
It makes one wonder if Scott was dealing with nagging injuries at the start of the season. After missing the Michigan game with an injury, Scott has bounced back and looked a lot more aggressive, nearly racking up 200 yards against Minnesota and averaging four yards a carry last weekend. This current version of Scott is the one that reminds you of his form towards the end of 2015, where he ran effectively against stout Iowa and Ohio State defenses. His major tests will come against Penn State on Nov. 4 and at Ohio State the following week.
Madre London may not have the solid numbers that Scott brings to the table so far in 2017, but with Holmes’s recent injury, he has seen his touches increase as well. London is not going to try to run defenders over, and at times he has been able to hit a big play or two, including a 50-yard run at Michigan. However, his fumble against Indiana nearly cost MSU the game.
Gerald Holmes’s injury came at a time when he had an opportunity to play the role that Scott is playing right now. His performance against Michigan featured a physical approach that was reminiscent of his performance in Columbus in 2015, where he was MSU’s best running back in its upset of the Buckeyes. If he comes back against either Northwestern or Penn State and can provide the play he brought for a half at Michigan, the trio could be devastating.
Preseason grade: B-
Mid-season grade: B
There we go! Davis is having a career year so far, serving as a huge red-zone threat for Lewerke. His 6-foot-4 frame has been able to go up over defenders and create opportunities in the end zone, as he hauled in big touchdowns against Iowa and Indiana.
Davis’s emergence as one of this team’s biggest receivers speaks to the overall depth at this position, something we weren’t expecting three months ago. Darrell Stewart was hardly mentioned as anything more than a potential special teams guy, and Stewart has shown playmaking flashes in space at the other starting wide receiver spot so far this year.
I think Stewart has some unlocked potential that we’re not seeing yet, which keeps him ahead of guys like Chambers, who have unfortunately not really been able to see much of the field recently.
Rison has made a couple of big plays already, including two clutch late-game catches against Indiana. As long as he continues to find space and avoid drops, we may be seeing a lot more of Rison not just this year, but for the next couple as well.
What’s more, we managed to leave out Cody White completely. White’s play against Indiana is something that, if sustainable, has the potential to add a whole new layer to MSU’s offensive gameplan. Going forward as a de-facto third starting wide receiver, White’s speed and sure hands give MSU an option out of the slot on passing downs.
We also gave the tight end spot a C, and I feel inclined to update that to a B- given that Matt Sokol has gotten the job done so far, and Chase Gianacakos has delivered the necessary push on running plays as an extra blocker.
Preseason grade: B-
Mid-season grade: B+
A B+ might seem high, but a lot of that has stemmed from solid push up front against two sneaky-good defenses in Minnesota and Indiana. Whether it was gameplan or execution, Brian Allen and company blew the Gophers off the ball and were able to do an adequate job against the Hoosiers.
Chewins and Higby are doing as well as they did last season in terms of run blocking as a unit. However, Indiana’s underrated pass rush gave left tackle Chewins and right tackle Luke Campbell some trouble especially in the first half. They’re young, so they’re going to make mistakes, but the mistakes they have made have resulted in very few Lewerke sacks as of yet.
Penn State’s solid defensive line and Ohio State’s elite talent up front will be indicators of future success in a post-Allen world in 2018. Even then, maybe Matt Allen will be able to step right into his brother’s shoes a year from now.
With David Beedle suffering from injuries at times, true freshman Kevin Jarvis has been pressed into duty at the right guard position, and Reid has seen time around the line. Usually, a true freshman on the offensive line in college is a major warning sign, but Jarvis has been able to pull it off. There have been times that Jarvis has shown his inexperience, allowing a big sack during MSU’s go-ahead touchdown drive last weekend, but on the whole there’s a lot to like about Jarvis’s future.