Five things to watch: Football vs Western Michigan
MSU football took its first steps in putting its 3-9, 2016 season behind them by defeating Bowling Green last Saturday in the Spartans’ season opener.
The Spartans, now 1-0, look to ride their momentum into Saturday’s game against Western Michigan.
Here are five things to watch in Saturday’s contest:
Lewerke's performance: After an impressive outing last week, quarterback Brian Lewerke will look to sustain his momentum against Western.
In his third start of his MSU career and first this season, the redshirt sophomore started slow, overthrowing and underthrowing open receivers. But Lewerke stayed calm and got into a grove.
The 6-foot-3 quarterback finished the game completing 22 of 33 passes for 250 yards and three touchdowns, while rushing for a team-high 69 yards on eight attempts.
“I thought Brian Lewerke played well,” head coach Mark Dantonio said. “I thought he was in control of the offense. I thought he got out of problems, so that was very positive, which we knew he could do that. I thought the biggest thing that he did, I thought very well, was he led, and he didn't get overwhelmed by the situation or when things didn't go quite right. He didn't let that bother him, and I think he's only going to continue to get better and feel more comfortable in what he's doing out there.”
Limiting turnovers: Saturday’s matchup is a good test to see how the Spartans will rebound from their fumbling mishaps against Bowling Green. The Spartans fumbled the ball four times against the Falcons, with three being recovered by Bowling Green, including one that was returned for a touchdown.
Junior running back LJ Scott had two fumbles lost in the win, but Dantonio said that his turnovers are not anything to be overly concerned about.
Containing Darius Phillips: In the Spartans’ last matchup against the Broncos, MSU was unable to contain return man Darius Phillips.
Phillips fielded four kickoffs against the Spartans in 2015, recording 185 kick return yards, including a 100-yard touchdown return.
“Well, you certainly understand that he's a factor in any football game, and so whether it's on punt or it's on kickoff, we have to work extremely hard to counteract what he's doing,” Dantonio said. “So that will be a challenge, and our guys will know what's going on. He was a virtual unknown to us on that particular day back in 2015. But we know who he is now, so we'll get ourselves ready.”
Phillips’ domination against MSU in 2015 wasn’t just a fluke.
In the Broncos’ season opener against then-No. 4 USC last Saturday, Phillips returned four kickoffs, recording a net of 168 return yards, including a 100-yard touchdown return in the fourth quarter.
Kicker Brett Scanlon and punter Jake Hartbarger will have their hands full on Saturday as they will try to contain Phillips’ explosiveness.
Butler vs. Scott: When the Spartans’ first depth chart of the season came out, sophomore Josh Butler had beat out freshman Josiah Scott for one of the starting cornerback positions, a decision that was a surprise to some.
Despite being in the two-deep on the depth chart, Scott started against Bowling Green, recording one tackle, ½ tackle for loss and defended two passes, while Butler finished the day with three total tackles — two solo — and defended one pass.
As the battle for the starting job continues, Saturday will be another chance in which these two can separate themselves from one another and grab the starting spot for good.
Bachie on defense: Sophomore linebacker Joe Bachie is another player that hopes to carry over his thrilling performance from last weekend to this Saturday.
The second-year player recorded a team-leading and career-high 10 tackles, including four solo, in the 35-10 win last Saturday.
“I think it's what we expected,” Dantonio said. “We knew he would be a dynamic player. … So I think he is what he is. The guy can really run. He's effective, very effective leader. Knows what’s going on out there.”