Turk: What Iowa performance means for matchup with Michigan

Brian Lewerke is playing at a level that suggests future stardom. Is he going to single-handedly beat Michigan on Saturday? Probably not.

However, Lewerke was able to make just enough plays to get the job done against a rock-solid Iowa defense.

That defense was unyielding against MSU’s run game, allowing just 88 yards on 40 attempts. That number is awfully misleading considering it seemed every other time the Spartans ran the ball, linebacker Josey Jewell and defensive tackle Nathan Bazata were there.

Despite the fact that Lewerke’s stats didn’t jump off the page, and there were a few too many drives that failed to get into field goal range in the second half, Michigan State managed to get the job done. The gameplan in 2017 for MSU seems to be “let the defense make stops, and hope Lewerke makes enough plays to win.”

That’s exactly what the Spartan defense was able to pull off against Iowa last Saturday afternoon. However Michigan State decided to blitz, chances were they got to Iowa quarterback Nathan Stanley, who came into the game leading the Big Ten in passing touchdowns.

“We were able to cut loose Brandon Randle and Demetrius Cooper,” co-defensive coordinator Mike Tressel said postgame. “Just those two guys… they had the ability to get pressure on their own and they did that.”

Cooper, linebacker Joe Bachie and safety Khari Willis picked up the three sacks of the day for the defense, who recorded 10.5 sacks across 12 games last season. Bachie turned in yet another solid performance, solidifying himself as one of the cornerstones of a Spartan defense that has looked a lot like the defenses that took the field at Spartan Stadium about three or four years ago.

As for the offense–Iowa possesses a good defense, but the lack of a running game does not bode well for the rest of the conference slate. True freshman Kevin Jarvis filled in for David Beedle about as well as can be expected for a freshman offensive lineman making his first start, but just over two yards a carry will not work against Michigan, or when facing Ohio State’s deep defensive line in November.

There were still problems with the Iowa performance. MSU committed nine penalties, as they did in their 38-18 loss to Notre Dame. The running game, as previously mentioned, was next to useless in the second half.

Much of Dave Warner’s playcalling in the second half felt conservative, as has been commonplace in Dantonio’s tenure. Winning ugly is definitely something MSU is used to in the Dantonio era, but Warner didn’t help things by calling run after run into the heart of the tenacious Iowa defense.

For a team that lost the battle up front against Notre Dame a week ago, it was a fascinating battle up front on both sides of the ball. Both defenses won convincingly, which leaves the jury out about how good MSU’s offensive line actually is. It hasn’t been able to control the game for large stretches since the tail-end of the Western Michigan matchup.

Either way, the win over Iowa was vital heading into Ann Arbor as ten-point underdogs. Before you get lost in the fumbled-snap video, or assume that John O’Korn will be ready for the taking as a backup quarterback, take this into consideration: Michigan’s defense is close to elite, again.

Advanced stats have Michigan ranked as the second-best defense in the nation, and I’d assume that MSU will need to convincingly beat Michigan in the “effort” category if they want to come close to matching the Wolverines’ elite defensive line in the trenches in Ann Arbor.

However, should the Spartans find themselves in trouble late in the game, it might just be Brian Lewerke that comes through when MSU needs someone to put their name next to the likes of Duckett and Watts-Jackson in the history books of the Paul Bunyan Trophy rivalry.