Inexperienced wideouts emerge as offense rusty in season opener
The Spartans entered the season young. Key positions were decimated by departures and graduation. The depth chart featured a number of true and redshirt freshmen.
The youth movement in East Lansing was on.
But chatter of head coach Mark Dantonio’s squad, despite the questions and concerns, always had a key position no fans or critics worried about — the running backs.
After all, why would they? Veteran and Eagle Council member Gerald Holmes was back for his final year. LJ Scott was expected for another big year after a successful 2015 and 2016. Even Madre London, now a redshirt junior, brought key experience back in the MSU backfield.
The team was bound to rely on its three-headed trio to take the burden off a young wide receiving core and redshirt sophomore quarterback Brian Lewerke.
But as the Spartans blasted the Bowling Green Falcons, none of the tailbacks especially stood out.
“I think all three of those guys are Big Ten running backs,” Dantonio said. “All three of them had a lot of success. I still think LJ is an outstanding running back and we’re going to give him the ball. I don’t think there’s any separation.”
Interestingly, it would be Lewerke leading the team in rushing yards, compiling 69 yards on eight rushes.
London, Holmes and Scott would all get their touches, but none of the trio would stand out in a major way. Except for Scott, who stuck out like a sore thumb, and it wasn’t for his positive contributions. The junior turned the ball over twice, both times on fumbles.
“I feel bad for (Scott), because he’s a very, very good player,” Dantonio said. “I thought the other two guys ran very effectively.”
But the wide receivers, now that’s a different story. The inexperience was on full display, but the stats were certainly there. Cody White, Hunter Rison, Cam Chambers and Laress Nelson all caught their first career college reception.
“The bottom line is I thought (the wide receivers) performed well,” co-offensive coordinator Dave Warner said. “Had some good stats. But hopefully this is just the tip of the iceberg for them because the first time out you’re gonna have mistakes, they did.”
Elsewhere, the expected trio of Trishton Jackson, Felton Davis III and Darrell Stewart Jr. all had their bright spots.
But the star of the day was arguably Stewart; the redshirt sophomore caught six passes for 85 yards. Where he truly made his mark, though, was for his jack-of-all-trades nature.
Stewart was the beneficiary of a few jet sweeps plays, resulting in his three rushes for 28 yards. He was a factor in the special teams, too, handling kickoff and punt return duties.
“Throughout this program Coach D told me when I first got here, he’d bring me to be one of those guys, the playmakers,” Stewart said. “Starting with this camp he was just telling me to do my game, don’t worry about nothing else, do my game.”
Even Davis joined in on the fun with his teammate and "best friend," Stewart. The wideout only had four receptions, but made them count, hauling in two touchdown catches.
A number of freshman earned some burn on the field. Some sets had Chambers, White and Rison all out together around a young quarterback in Lewerke.
Despite the optimism surrounding the wide receivers, it’s just the beginning. The Bowling Green victory was just game one of a long season, and the Spartans are still looking to bury the ghosts of 3-9 away.
“It’s very important (to keep the momentum going),” Davis said. “Momentum can change quickly, Coach D talks about always getting the rock rolling. As long as we get the rock rolling, we’re going to be good.”