Sunday, July 12, 2020

Column: Michigan State's loss to Ohio State was a summary of its season

November 12, 2018
Redshirt freshman quarterback Rocky Lombardi (12) and freshman running back La'Darius Jefferson (15) during the game against Ohio State Nov. 10, 2018. The Spartans fell to the Buckeyes, 26-6.
Redshirt freshman quarterback Rocky Lombardi (12) and freshman running back La'Darius Jefferson (15) during the game against Ohio State Nov. 10, 2018. The Spartans fell to the Buckeyes, 26-6. —
Photo by Matt Schmucker | The State News

The 18th-ranked Spartans' 26-6 loss to Ohio State Saturday afternoon was their season summarized in one game.

A defense, which held its opponent below its average score (42.2 points per game) and average yardage (547.2 yards per game), holding the 10th-ranked Buckeyes (9-1, 6-1 in Big Ten) to 347 yards. 

An offense, ravaged by injuries from every position minus the tight ends that averages 23.4 points per game (110th in college football) showcasing its struggles against OSU, having 274 total yards and zero touchdowns.

“Darrell Stewart Jr. was out (in the second half), (center) Matt Allen is out, (guard) David Beedle is out, (offensive lineman) Luke Campbell is out,” MSU coach Mark Dantonio said. “We've gone through a lot of different wide receivers and such things of that nature but … We still got to show up. We've got to be able to run the ball with some type of efficiency.”

And as of the last three weeks, there's been a quarterback dilemma as to whether injured starter Brian Lewerke (unknown right-shoulder) or backup Rocky Lombardi should start. 

But, Saturday didn’t show any answers, with Lewerke going 11-of-28 for 128 yards, and an interception and two fumbles — both recovered — while Lombardi went 7-of-20 for 92 yards with three rushes for a team-high 49 yards and a lost fumble.

The Spartans (6-4, 4-3) ran for 54 yards total against the Buckeyes, which isn’t too surprising given the rushing offense ranks 112th in the nation (125.6 yards per game). 

The rushing offense is also now without running back LJ Scott (apparent ankle injury) for the rest of the season, as the senior is redshirting, according to Dantonio.

The same rushing offense that ran for 269 yards against Maryland two weeks ago.

“Other than that, we haven't had a great push out front,” co-offensive coordinator Dave Warner said. “We continue to evaluate the scheme we're using. We continue to try and find ways to be able to run the football. Obviously, we struggled today. We were backed up like five straight times there and really not able to run some of our offense because of coming out offense, so that made it a little more difficult.”

That difficulty and frustration has started to show more and more as the season goes on, with Lewerke even saying Saturday he’s thought about calling it a season to let his shoulder heal, and that Lombardi should’ve played the remainder of the game against OSU. 

The defense knows it has been carrying the load, being the top-ranked run defense and allowing 19 points per game, good for 22nd in the country. 

“It's really frustrating because of what you just said: the defense was playing fantastic and you can't win a game just scoring six points,” Lombardi said. “It's pretty frustrating for us because we want to provide for them.”

I believe them. Lewerke, who has nine interceptions in nine games, said Saturday the defense “played their asses off” and the offense has “not looked good at all.”

And for the first time this season, the defense started to show a little bit of frustration with the offense after the loss against the Buckeyes, but still defended their teammates. 

While I could go in-depth into how the quarterback situation should be handled, I feel I would be rehashing what I said in my column last week, which after hearing Lewerke talk postgame, it sounds like resting and letting Lombardi play is a possible option — if Dantonio and the rest of the staff allow it.

So, I’ll keep this short and simple.

The offense was never able to really get going, with injuries to Scott during the Arizona State game on Sept. 8, numerous offensive linemen and wide receivers Cody White — who’s played in the last two games since suffering a broken left hand against Central Michigan on Sept. 29 — and Felton Davis III (torn left Achilles).

Now, with Lewerke injured and the coaches handling his injury and ability to play questionably, this offense, which had 10 of its 11 starters come back this season, won’t reach the potential it was touted before the season started.

The defense is showing the nation what MSU’s foundation is.

You saw it against OSU, and pretty much every other game before that this season.

But, what you might’ve not heard is the togetherness on both sides of the ball, regardless of how bad the offense.

A togetherness this team has preached since MSU’s Media Day back in August — and safety Khari Willis said it showed on the sideline Saturday.

“I think our energy on our sideline was as good as it’s been all year,” said Willis, who had a career-high 15 total tackles Saturday. “I feel like we had great energy, great enthusiasm, played with a lot of emotion, a lot of heart. But, we weren’t able to come up with enough plays, put enough points on the board, offensively or defensively.”


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