Thursday, June 4, 2020

Takeaways from Michigan State football's loss to Arizona State

September 9, 2018
Senior defensive back Khari WIllis (27) attempts to strip the ball out of the receivers hand after making a tackle during the game against Utah State on Aug. 31, 2018 at Spartan Stadium. The Spartans defeated the Aggies 38-31.
Senior defensive back Khari WIllis (27) attempts to strip the ball out of the receivers hand after making a tackle during the game against Utah State on Aug. 31, 2018 at Spartan Stadium. The Spartans defeated the Aggies 38-31. —
Photo by CJ Weiss | The State News

No. 15 Michigan State was upset by Arizona State, 16-13, in the football team's first road game of the season and move to 1-1 on the season.

With this, here are senior football beat reporter Jonathan LeBlanc’s takeaways from the Spartans’ Saturday night loss.

Offense misses out on points in the red zone — again

Against Utah State, MSU coach Mark Dantonio said his team had too many unforced turnovers and left points up on the board.

The only thing that changed in week two was the opponent.

Like in week one, the Spartans left points off the board because of unforced turnovers.

"Our inability to score in the red zone creeps up on us again," Dantonio said at his postgame press conference.

Early in the second quarter, quarterback Brian Lewerke, who completed 27-of-39 passes for 314 yards, a touchdown and interception, was penalized for a delay of game turning a third-and-1 into a fourth-and-six, forcing a 37-yard field goal from Matt Coghlin.

On the next drive, Lewerke threw his lone interception to ASU defensive back Dasmond Tautalatasi while MSU was on the Sun Devils’ six-yard line.

On the first drive in the second half for the Spartans, they failed to get in the end zone from 10-yards out which led to a 28-yard field goal by Coghlin.

MSU wouldn’t get in the end zone until 1:27 left in the third quarter, when Lewerke hit wide receiver Cody White for a 31-yard touchdown. And the 31-yard line isn’t in the red zone.

Although, Dantonio said he can't make a judgement yet until he watches film, one thing is for certain: MSU needs to score touchdowns in the red zone.

"Tough to win a game with 13 points, it's tough to win a game with 16 points," he said. "You're always in the game, one play can flip the game. Last week, it was different. We need to play better."

Offensive line still needs work

Going into MSU’s media day, one of the biggest questions was who would replace former center Brian Allen. 

In the Spartans’ 38-31 win over the Aggies, the entire offensive line was put into question with starting left tackle Cole Chewins out for an unspecified reason, moving Luke Campbell from right tackle to left, and juggled between starting center Tyler Higby, backup center Matt Allen and starting right tackle Jordan Reid for the remainder of the game.

On Saturday night, Chewins played the opening offensive snap for MSU, but never saw the field again after he “tweaked” something, according to Dantonio.

So the rotation between Campbell, Higby, Allen and Reid happened again, and forced pressure on Lewerke and running backs LJ Scott, Connor Heyward and La’Darius Jefferson to make plays. Which at times they did, but other times, they didn’t — including Reid letting an ASU edge rusher go by untouched and forcing a Lewerke fumble, which Reid recovered on the second-to-last MSU offensive play of the game. 

And the play before that, Lewerke was sacked for a 10-yard loss

On the first drive of the second half, Higby allowed ASU to put him on his back forcing a loss of three yards by Heyward, and Coghlin’s second field goal.

The bye week comes at a great time for MSU to allow Chewins to heal and figure out its offensive line.

"It'll be good to get some rest," Lewerke said. "I hope that this bye week will be like a new beginning of the season. Kind of start off how we wanted to."

Abandonment of the running game

The running game totaled up 63 yards, which is not what people are used to seeing out of an MSU team.

Heyward only ran five times for 22 yards averaging 4.4 per carry, Jefferson three times for 20 yards averaging 6.7 per carry and Scott, who’s left the game presumably because of an injury, ran seven times for 19 yards averaging 2.7 per carry.

Although they did have some success, the Spartans seemed to rely on Lewerke’s arm more than their running backs. When MSU did look to pound the ball, it was in predictable short-yardage situations and the Sun Devils sniffed it out.

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