Column: Let us appreciate the MSU offense's clutchness
If you were one of the few to come back from the lengthy weather delay at Spartan Stadium, you could feel the nervousness in the air. It was the sort of tension that has you on the edge of your seat; a thriller that makes your heart rate jolt with excitement.
Except despite the suffocating anxiety, there was a sense of familiarity. A twinge of cool, calm confidence coupled an image MSU fans are all too used to.
Etched in mind of the diehard faithful is a portrait of quarterback Brian Lewerke and his offense taking the field late in the fourth quarter, looking for a crucial final score or first down.
That’s happened a frightening amount of times this year. MSU has yet to play a Big Ten game that hasn’t been decided by more than one possession.
This time, the Spartans received the ball with 4:05 left in the game, and 10 plays later — history.
Rinse, wash, repeat.
So let’s come together to rightfully acknowledge and crown this MSU offense for its desperate need to deliver down the stretch.
It’s happened all season long, too. Nobody can forget the crucial first down play Lewerke had versus Michigan to reclaim the Paul Bunyan Trophy. Against Indiana, the explosion heard from Spartan Stadium when Lewerke threw the go-ahead touchdown could be heard from lonely Holmes Hall down the road.
Even against Northwestern, while the quarterback made a silly play in triple overtime, the final drive of regulation was a masterful performance of gunslinging. The redshirt sophomore — still an underclassman, mind you — guided his offense methodically down the field, much like a surgeon in gut-check time.
In between those handful of plays against Penn State, there weren’t the typical shenanigans the Spartan offense features. No mind-boggling catch from one of the talented receivers. No Lewerke scrambling to pick up a crucial first down.
MSU was probably fortunate to receive that game-changing roughing the passer penalty that afforded them a first down and an extra 15 yards. But good teams create their own luck, as the sports cliches go.
And as kicker Matt Coghlin’s field goal went perfectly through the uprights, murmurs turned to celebrations; the spoils of success were back. The MSU offense did what it has done so often — deliver a victory when the game hung in the balance.
To the disappointment of sports journalists everywhere, Lewerke didn’t give a sexy quote post-game if anything changes during those crucial stretches of the game.
Those last few minutes are business as usual, in other words. There is no second gear the Spartans are looking to tap into, at least according to Lewerke.
And damn, are they still exciting to watch. Fans can voice their qualms with the play-calling — fairly or not — but the real mastermind here is Lewerke. How he throws or runs the ball determines whether MSU squeezes by on the slimmest of margins again for an upset win.
This offense, when it’s on, can run and compete with any other team in the nation in a Big 12-esque shootout. There’s too much talent everywhere to simply dismiss.
Couple that with a suffocating, stout defense, it’s where we stand as MSU marches toward its next challenge, a date in Columbus with Ohio State.
To be fair, this offense has frustrated on a number of occasions, especially in the middle parts of the game. Too many times, whether it be the play-calling or execution failures, the chains aren’t moving as MSU foolishly wipes points off the board due its own failures.
But the consistency should come with time, and that’s what makes MSU’s offense so deadly. There’s plenty to improve, perfect over the course of 2017 and beyond.
Though the results do speak for themselves. Lewerke’s 400-plus yards throwing in back-to-back games looks nothing like the once-youthful quarterback that scrambled frequently early this season.
Instead, now, the receivers are getting open. The running game might be lacking, but even that crew has picked it up in clutch time.
In terms of pure consistency, the MSU offense has a lot to learn. Growing pains, as some might call it. But if there’s one aspect the Spartans have shined in — it’s nabbing that crucial win when it matters most.
And I’d argue MSU fans wouldn’t want it any other way.