As Bowling Green nears, 6 MSU football players to keep an eye on
Following a substandard season in 2016 in which the Spartans finished with a 3-9 record and endured a troublesome offseason, MSU is less than one week away from beginning official gameplay, as the team faces Bowling Green at Spartan Stadium on Sept. 2.
With an abundance of noteworthy topics and storylines that have arisen entering the Spartans’ season opener, here are six players to watch in MSU’s contest against the Falcons:
QB Brian Lewerke
The redshirt sophomore quarterback enters his first season as the Spartans’ starting quarterback.
Last season, Lewerke played in four games, including two starts, before suffering a broken tibia that ended his season.
In 2016, the native of Phoenix, Arizona, was 31 of 57 for 381 yards, while throwing two touchdowns and one interception. Lewerke also managed to finish the season ranked third on the team in rushing with 149 yards.
Lewerke made his season debut against Wisconsin in 2016, completing 2 of 4 passes for 26 yards. Three weeks later, Lewerke made his first career start against Northwestern, becoming the first Spartan freshman to start at quarterback since Stephen Reaves back in 2004.
In his first start, Lewerke was 12 of 19 for 99 yards and connected with tight end Josiah Price for his first career passing touchdown. The pass was a major boost that helped MSU set the school record for the most single-game passing yards with 424.
He then made his second consecutive start at Maryland and took a few snaps under center against then-No. 2 Michigan before breaking his tibia in the fourth quarter.
After recovering from his injury, Lewerke played in front of thousands of MSU fans during the team’s spring game in April and was 25 of 44 for 305 yards with a touchdown.
The Running Backs
The three-man race between redshirt senior Gerald Holmes, junior LJ Scott and redshirt junior Madre London to compete for the bulk of carries in the regular season continues into 2017.
During MSU media day, Holmes said he and the other running backs have constantly brought up the concept of having all three players on the field at the same time to their coaches. To their delight, co-offensive coordinator and running backs coach Dave Warner mentioned during MSU media day that he can create several formations that will use all three players at the same time.
Scott is, however, expected to be the leading candidate entering the season opener.
Last season, the native of Hubbard, Ohio, led the team in rushing yards (994), carries (184), total touchdowns (7) and rushing touchdowns (6), while leading the running back group in yards per carry (5.4).
Scott’s 994 yards on 184 carries in 2016 were the seventh most by a Spartan sophomore in a single season.
In 2016, Holmes recorded 431 yards rushing, while London notched 120 yards.
Whatever the game plan is, the Spartans' matchup against the Falcons will give fans an early glimpse of how the running back trio will factor into the offense.
Jackson remained relatively quiet throughout the 2016 season.
In his freshman season with the Spartans in 2016, Jackson hauled in just five catches for 89 yards.
In November, Jackson stepped into the spotlight, recording a 50-yard touchdown reception for his first career touchdown against Rutgers.
During the spring game in April, Jackson made his presence known, grabbing eight catches for 168 yards, which made him a player to watch this 2017 season. With Jackson's potential, this fall could become his breakthrough season.
After the 2016 season, several key players in the passing game departed, including WR R.J. Shelton, WR Monty Madaris, TE Josiah Price. The team also lost WR Donnie Corley, who was dismissed following his involvement in one of the two alleged sexual assault cases that surrounded MSU this offseason.
The departures left MSU a roster full of youth to fill in the void, and with this year’s receiving corps having no seniors and just three upperclassmen, Jackson should see a sizable increase in his role in the offense.
CB Josiah Scott
After an impressive offseason, Scott, a true freshman, will likely begin the season as one of the team’s starting cornerbacks.
During the spring Green-White game, Scott finished tied for the team lead with eight tackles while grabbing one interception.
Seven cornerbacks are listed on this year’s roster, and just two juniors — Tyson Smith and T.J. Harrell — represent the upperclassmen of the group.
With a cornerback group loaded with youth, Scott is going to be a pivotal member of the Spartans’ defense.
CB Justin Layne
A threat on both sides of the ball, Layne transitioned from wide receiver to cornerback in the fifth game of his freshman season in 2016.
Layne spent the majority of last season at cornerback, but took snaps as a wide receiver in the Spartans’ contest against Indiana.
The 6-foot-3 cornerback logged 18 tackles and one interception in nine games last year, including starting in five of the Spartans’ last seven contests.
An expected starter at cornerback, Layne could very well continue to take snaps at the wideout position this season.
K Matt Coghlin
After last season, the special teams unit was left with a major hole to fill, as starting kicker Michael Geiger, who was a four-year starter, graduated and departed from the MSU football team.
Geiger’s departure leaves Coghlin, senior Brett Scanlon and freshmen Jack Mckenna and Cole Hahn to compete for the starting placekicker job.
Coghlin, who was ranked among the nation’s top kickers in high school, seemingly is the expected starter, but it has not yet been made official.
A native of Cincinnati, Ohio, Coghlin redshirted his freshman season and spent the year on the sidelines learning from the likes of Michael Geiger and Kevin Cronin, who was the team’s kicker for kickoff.
If Coghlin is indeed named the starter, he will have a substantial vacancy to fill, as Geiger graduated from MSU with five school records: most consecutive point-after attempts (98 in a row), most PATs in a single-season (72 in 2014), most career PATs (189), most extra points in a single game (10 vs. Eastern Michigan in 2014) and best field-goal percentage in a single season (94 percent in 2013).