Second-half strides lead offense past defense in 2018 spring game

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EAST LANSING, Mich. — Don’t let the 30-degree weather and 15-mile per hour wind fool you. Spring football has arrived.

White defeated Green in Michigan State’s annual spring game by a score of 32-30. For the second consecutive year, the game featured an offense (White) vs. defense (Green) format. The offense was scored the same way as an ordinary game, whereas the defense was awarded three points for every scoreless five minutes in addition to another three points per turnover.

“It’s still warming up,” joked MSU coach Mark Dantonio after the game. “I’ve got to watch the film and see how we played, but I thought everyone had the opportunity to play in the football game…everybody gets the opportunity to show something.”

Brian Lewerke earned the start at quarterback and played the majority of the possessions in the first half. After 15 scoreless minutes, Lewerke led two touchdown drives for White with major support both on the ground and in the air from second-string running back Connor Heyward.

White led Green 14-12 at intermission, although the offense struggled with Rocky Lombardi and Theo Day under center. Both were fairly inaccurate and had difficulty finding receivers beyond their first options. The Mike Panasiuk-led front seven applied relentless pressure against the young backup quarterbacks, even without projected starting linebackers Joe Bachie and Andrew Dowell. Lewerke’s day was complete at halftime.

After more struggles from Lombardi early in the third quarter, Mickey Macius entered the game under center and made an early statement with a 32-yard strike to Nick Krumm. But third-string running back Alante Thomas would fumble the ball later that possession, recovered by defensive end Jacub Panasiuk to hand three more points to the defense. Day would throw an interception the following drive to Josiah Scott for a second consecutive turnover. White took a 24-14 advantage heading into the fourth quarter.

After Thomas’ fumble, the offense largely abandoned the run. It wasn’t pretty, but Lombardi embraced the “scrappy kid” role and took advantage of poor pass protection from linebackers. CJ Hayes and Matt Dotson assisted with a few surprising contributions in the air as well.

“I think I just got a little more comfortable,” said Lombardi after the game. “Sometimes it’s just how things go. Sometimes you play a little better in the beginning, [sometimes]a little better in the end.”

Late in the fourth quarter, a 31-yard rush from Thomas within the 5-yard line led Lombardi and company to a touchdown drive. A flea-flicker from Heyward to Lombardi on the two-point conversion put them down 27-25 with about a minute remaining. Dantonio placed the ball in Green territory for the final drive and Lombardi once again delivered to Darrell Stewart for his second touchdown reception of the day. White won the game 32-30.

“Maybe giving us better field position,” Lewerke joked after the game when asked what helped the offense in the second half. “For the younger guys, as the game goes on, we get more comfortable…once you do this, it all starts flowing.”

The score of the spring game is never significant. It’s to address position battles and build a depth chart. A few questions were answered, such as wide receiver depth. Even without Felton Davis III in the game, MSU was able to give time to backups like Cam Chambers and Laress Nelson with the transfers of two wideouts in the offseason. Emmanuel Flowers and Jahz Watts also saw a fair amount of action.

But strong backup quarterback play was certainly inconsistent and, other than one big run from Alante Thomas, MSU did not appear very deep in running backs. They also struggled in kickoffs with the loss of Brett Scanlon.

The Spartans will now participate in one final practice on the 10th before reconvening in the summer.

“We get to clean it up rather than say ‘spring ball is done. Let’s go on our way,’” said Dantonio. “So, you know, we’ll continue here throughout the next couple days and I think that’s positive for the learning environment of our players.”

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