How Lewerke, MSU offense flashed big-game potential on final drive

How+Lewerke%2C+MSU+offense+flashed+big-game+potential+on+final+drive

Mike Mulholland | MLive.com

EAST LANSING, Mich. — MICHIGAN STATE drive start at 03:50, 4th quarter.


Michigan State is up 17-10, but has long since given up any idea of scoring points. Whatever was working on their opening two drives–both touchdown passes from Brian Lewerke to Felton Davis–went missing sometime in the second quarter. That second quarter also featured two quarterback sneaks on third and fourth downs that failed to pick up the required eight inches or so necessary to push the game potentially out of reach.


1-10 MSU48 Scott, LJ rush for 1 yard to the MSU49 (Jewell, Josey; Bazata, Nathan).

2-9 MSU49 Timeout Iowa, clock 03:44.


Iowa’s defense has been somewhere around the top 20 percent in college football this season. This is not surprising. Linebacker Josey Jewell played September-Heisman winner Saquon Barkley to a near-draw the week before. There is a 6-foot-8 defensive end, Anthony Nelson, who could probably end up playing a serviceable role on the Hawkeyes’ basketball team this season. There is yet another excellent Iowa defensive back, Josh Jackson, who leads the Big Ten in passes defended. Passes defended may not roll off the tongue the same way interceptions might, but you get the idea.

The running game on both sides of the ball has been, predictably, a war of attrition through 56 minutes. However, because Michigan State has the ball up a touchdown with under five minutes remaining, the Spartans must run in order to force Iowa to give up its three timeouts.

LJ Scott is still Michigan State’s best running back after fumbling three times in three games. Despite Gerald Holmes’ ability to bounce off of tacklers, Scott is still the running back of choice in high-leverage situations, at least in this particular high-leverage situation.


2-9 MSU49 Stewart, D. rush for loss of 3 yards to the MSU46 (Hesse, Parker; Bazata, Nathan).

3-12 MSU46 Timeout Iowa, clock 03:38.


In an attempt to both safely keep the clock running and attempt to catch Iowa’s defense off guard, Warner calls a jet sweep to wide receiver Darrell Stewart, but Lewerke bobbles the snap with three Hawkeye defenders waiting for Stewart by the time he is able to turn upfield. In an attempt to spin back and gain yards on an already-broken play, Stewart is swallowed up by the Iowa defense.

With 3:38 remaining in the game, the longest rushing play between both teams has been nine yards, achieved by both teams. Facing a third-and-12, Michigan State elects to throw, given that the math of running doesn’t really work in their favor.

Iowa rushes four linemen, and all five Michigan State receivers are covered. There is pressure from Lewerke’s left, and as he steps up in the pocket, there’s no one to throw to. There is, however, plenty of grass in front of him. Note the down and distance.


3-12 MSU46 Lewerke, Brian rush for 15 yards to the IOWA39, 1ST DOWN MSU (Hooker, Amani).


There is a strong argument that the MSU offense should not have even been in that situation in the first place. Warner’s playcalling in the second half was dull and predictable, as it has been in the second halves of many games where MSU holds the lead.

Instead, Lewerke was trusted to make a play, which he has done against Western Michigan, scoring a long touchdown run in the second quarter to open the scoring against the Broncos. Against Notre Dame, Lewerke’s playmaking ability was tested, and his youth showed, creating two turnovers by himself that directly led to points for the Irish.

Facing a solid Iowa defense, Lewerke didn’t come close to turning the ball over himself. How much of that was down to the ball security preached over the week by the coaching staff, we’ll never know, but it was a very safe week offensively.

Whether or not Lewerke can make plays against elite defenses without turning the ball over will be tested by the Wolverines in Ann Arbor on Saturday. If Lewerke can stay in the pocket and deliver the balls he threw to Felton Davis in the first half, MSU stands a decent chance of getting a favorable result.