EAST LANSING, Mich. — Following their embarrassing 48-3 loss in Columbus, now-ranked No. 17 Michigan State (8-3) could’ve faltered returning home to face Maryland (4-7) on Senior Day. A demoralizing game against No. 9 Ohio State: giving up a season-high 335 rushing yards and Dantonio’s largest loss in his tenure.
“I didn’t know, really, how our guys would respond,” coach Mark Dantonio said.
Well, MSU came out in the first half looking like a team that was out for revenge, eventually winning 17-7 on a mud-worn Spartan Stadium field. Here are my three biggest takeaways from MSU’s Senior Day win.
MSU controlled the line of scrimmage.
On both sides of the ball. Even when Maryland knew the run was coming.
“This was a very effective game for him,” Dantonio said on junior running back LJ Scott, who finished the day with 147 yards and a touchdown on 29 carries.
A lot of that yardage was thanks to MSU’s offensive line getting the push that was not present last week against OSU. The 64-yard mark on the ground from a week ago was eclipsed through the first quarter on Saturday.
The winter weather mix of rain, snow, and wind had an obvious effect on game flow and play-calling. Still, offensively, MSU was able to explode for nine chunk plays of 10 or more rushing yards.
Defensively, the Spartans sacked Max Bortenschlager three times and added eight tackles for loss on the day. Compared to no sacks and two TFL’s against the Buckeyes, MSU took advantage of the talent difference against the Terrapins.
Lewerke still has yet to take the next step.
1-for-10 through the first half, 2-for-14 for the game: rough numbers in the adverse conditions for Brian Lewerke, the sophomore quarterback from Arizona.
“We still got into situations where we had to throw the ball, and we have to be better at that. This game should’ve been put away in the first half,” MSU offensive coordinator Dave Warner said.
Lewerke admitted postgame that he can no longer use cold weather as an excuse, having been in East Lansing for three years.
Take last week with a grain of salt as far as Lewerke’s numbers go — he didn’t have enough time to drop back, let alone make a read past his first option. Against the Terrapins, Lewerke had time, but did not have the accuracy, missing Matt Sokol, Darrell Stewart, and others in adequate throwing windows.
MSU’s defense has yet to prove themselves against a capable quarterback.
Especially in ideal weather conditions.
Bowling Green. Western Michigan. Notre Dame. Iowa. Michigan. Minnesota. Northwestern. Ohio State. Maryland.
Nine of MSU’s 11 opponents. All were run-first teams — or could have been considered so — when MSU faced each of them. Five of those listed were all in some type of rain or snow storm.
A defense that prides itself on stopping the run had lived up to that idea until last week, but even then, it had its troubles when Barrett’s number was called to throw over the top.
And the statistics against the pass for the defense are where the team has room to improve. Second to last in the Big Ten coming into Saturday: allowing a 58-percent completion percentage for 248.9 yards per game and 11 touchdowns on the season.
What the win means…
A double-digit win season is now in MSU’s own control: traveling to Rutgers next Saturday (at 4 p.m. on FOX) and whichever bowl the Spartans are elected to. That may have been ludicrous to say after 3-9 in 2016 and a troubled offseason.