MSU’s defense forces pair of interceptions, wins spring game

The Spartans show promise, but there is still much work to be done


Photo: Zach Swiecicki/WDBM

Alex McRae, Baseball Reporter

EAST LANSING, Mich. — The wind was brisk and swirling this afternoon in Spartan Stadium as Michigan State took to the field for the first time since last year’s Redbox Bowl. While it was only a glorified scrimmage, the energy in the stadium was palpable.  

MSU’s defense “won” the scrimmage, thanks in part to four second-half turnovers, outscoring the offense 42-26. The offense scored early, with two touchdowns and a field goal in the first half, but then the defense really stepped up their game, only allowing one touchdown and a handful of field goals.

The offense the Spartans fielded last season was one of the least efficient in the nation as they ended the season ranked No. 116 in the nation behind the likes of Kansas, Eastern Michigan and Coastal Carolina. After watching today, there doesn’t seem to be much difference between the schemes from last year and the ones MSU ran this afternoon.

That said, the quarterback play looked more like it did in 2017 and early 2018 as Brian Lewerke proved to be healthy enough to put some touch on a 10-yard touchdown pass in the back of the end zone to Darrell Stewart. Lewerke also completed a screen pass to Connor Heyward who took it 50 yards for a score in the game’s final minutes. He was picked off by Josiah Scott, the pass should have been caught by the receiver but Scott was able to rip the ball out and make a great play.

Rocky Lombardi also had an overall positive day, as he threw a 31-yard dime to Darrell Stewart for a touchdown in the second quarter. He did have one interception, as a screen pass was tipped and intercepted by defensive end Zach Slade. The play from the other offensive positions was very hit or miss. Unfortunately for the Spartans there doesn’t look to be any real answer at the running back and tight end positions for now. While Connor Heyward has proven to be a dynamic weapon, he’s more of a straight-line runner and could struggle to make men miss.

Dantonio himself said, admittedly, “The running backs are a work in progress.” Dantonio is still very high on true freshman and early enrollee Anthony Williams. “He reminds me a lot of Jeremy Langford.”

Langford is certainly a guy Michigan State fans would love to have a carbon copy of. Williams also drew praise from the likes of senior wide receiver Darrell Stewart.

“He works hard and he wants to prove himself,” Stewart said.“One thing I can count on from Anthony is, he’s going to work hard.” Tight end has been a position the Spartans have struggled at since the loss of Josiah Price in 2016 and from the looks of it, that won’t change much in 2019. Not one of the tight ends made any kind of particular impact in the game today. Guys to expect to see a majority of the playing time at tight end this season are junior Matt Dotson, redshirt junior Noah Davis and redshirt freshman Trenton Gillison.

The offensive line was also a group that didn’t look particularly sharp on this windy Saturday afternoon. Senior left tackle Cole Chewins and junior tackle Luke Campbell were both held out of the game today so that may have played into the up-and-down play. That said, the group as a whole should improve quite a bit from last season, as five-star recruit Devontae Dobbs will be on campus this summer.

The defense is clearly still the dominant force it was last season, the real question entering 2019 for the Spartans is whether or not the offense will be able to hold up its end of the bargain. It doesn’t look like Michigan State will be fielding an offense that will light the world on fire this fall but in order to get back into double digits in the win column, they won’t need to. The key to success for this team come August will be to continue their dominant defensive force and to then partner that with a slightly above-average scoring offense.

The Spartans have one more spring practice before they hang-up the cleats until summer practice kicks off in August. If this game indicates anything, it’s that there is still much work to be done and it will take some guys to really step up into prominent roles to take Michigan State to the places they want to go. The Spartans will next play in front of the public on Aug. 30 against the Tulsa Golden Hurricanes.