Hunt: Spartans’ offense looks better, but barely

Aidan Hunt, Football Beat Reporter

EAST LANSING, Mich. – Michigan State wanted to open the 2019 season in a much better place than it left the 2018 season. Though the defense was at the top of college football, the offense’s inabilities last season left the Spartans with plenty to work on this past offseason with the hopes of improving from a disappointing 7-6 record in 2018.

The Spartans’ Friday night opener against Tulsa showed promise, but also displayed room for improvement still present on the offensive side of the ball. The offensive line, whose 2018 was plagued by injuries and looked pitiful for a large portion of the season, did a much better job protecting quarterback Brian Lewerke and created a few options for Michigan State’s running backs. 

Lewerke, whose 2018 season was marred by a shoulder injury, looked to be more comfortable in the pocket with the improved protection, going 21-of-37 for 192 yards passing, including finding eight different receivers.

Brian Lewerke/Photo: Riley James

“We’re gonna be an up-tempo offense,” head coach Mark Dantonio said. “I thought Lewerke was sharp, thought he threw the ball with velocity, thought he scrambled out of there well and made some plays.

“When your quarterback’s playing well, great things can happen.”

The Spartans struggled to run the ball in 2018, a very uncharacteristic showing of Mark Dantonio’s (and the Big Ten Conference’s) run-heavy offensive philosophy, despite LJ Scott returning for his senior year and young running backs Connor Heyward and La’Darius Jefferson looking promising.

Heyward, Jefferson and redshirt freshman Elijah Collins combined for only 60 yards rushing Friday night, but were able to contribute to the receiving game.

A touchdown pass from Lewerke to Heyward on the opening drive of the game was the only scoring the Spartan offense was able to muster. Kicker Matt Coghlin scored 12 of Michigan State’s 28 points, and the defense was able to put eight points on the board via a safety and a fumble recovery in the endzone by Kenny Willekes.

Kenny Willekes/Photo: MSU Athletic Communications

For both the defense and the special teams to put more points on the board than the offense is alarming, to say the least.

“[We] just got to be able to finish drives once we get down there, stay penalty free, and put the ball in the end zone” Lewerke said.

“Just gotta keep pushing, keep moving on and getting better.”

Michigan State was expected to clean up its act on offense this season, but its inability to finish off drives in the end zone hurts the Spartans as they look ahead to difficult away matchups against defenses like Wisconsin, Ohio State and Michigan.

There are a lot of things Michigan State did well offensively Friday night, and a few improvements from last season were shown; but if the offense is only able to score one touchdown against Tulsa, it could be in for another disappointing season come Big Ten play.

Contact Aidan Hunt at [email protected]. Follow him on Twitter at @TheAidanHunt.