Following Michigan State’s (6-5, 4-4 in Big Ten) 9-6 loss to Nebraska (4-7, 3-5) Saturday afternoon, here’s football beat report Jonathan LeBlanc’s key takeaways. The Spartans will face Rutgers (1-10, 0-8) next Saturday at 4 p.m. on FOX in East Lansing.
Rocky Lombardi gets start; offense still sputters in windy, snowy conditions
Before MSU and Nebraska kicked off, it was still to be determined if quarterback Brian Lewerke (unknown right-shoulder injury) or backup Rocky Lombardi would get the start.
The answer once the MSU offense took the field for its opening drive: Rocky Lombardi.
And it didn’t change how the offense performed.
The Spartans totaled 289 yards on 79 plays. Lombardi went 15-of-41 for 146 yards, a lost fumble and an interception while running nine times for 53 yards, including a 24-yard and 11-yard run on MSU’s final drive of the first half, and a 12-yard run with 3:27 left in the third quarter.
MSU has not scored a touchdown in its last eight quarters, with the last one being an 80-yard run by sophomore running back Connor Heyward in the fourth against Maryland on Nov. 3.
Heyward was the only bright spot Saturday, running a team-high 21 times for 80 yards, while catching five passes for 78 yards. The next leading receiver was junior wideout Darrell Stewart Jr., who caught four passes for 23 yards.
But other than mainly Heyward, the offense sputtered yet again, scoring just six points for the second consecutive week, and this time with Lombardi at the helm instead of Lewerke.
Which shows MSU’s offense can’t be fixed by simply putting in a different quarterback.
Spartans’ defense dominates — again
While the offense continued to struggle, MSU’s defense dominated.
The Spartans limited Nebraska to 248 yards and quarterback Adrian Martinez to a 16-of-37, 145-yard effort, while the top-ranked run defense limited the Cornhuskers' running game to 103 total yards.
MSU also forced five fumbles and recovered two of them — the first, forced and recovered by linebacker Andrew Dowell with 3:07 left in the first quarter, and the second, forced by defensive end Jacub Panasiuk and recovered by defensive end Kenny Willekes early in the second quarter.
Willekes also continued his impressive play, totaling nine tackles, including 3.5 for a loss, making his TFL total now a team-high 20.5.
You could go into more specific stats, but with only one game left in the regular season, you know what you’re going to get out of this defense.
Stuffing the run, solid protection against the pass and numerous future NFL players making plays.
William Przystup showcases future as MSU’s starting punter
The lackluster performance on offense forced Przystup to punt seven times — and he delivered.
With Bryce Baringer not making the trip, Przystup was handed the reins, averaging 42 yards per punt, including a career-long 55-yard punt with six seconds left in the first quarter — his second 50-plus yard punt on the afternoon.
The walk-on freshman has only played once before Saturday, which was in a 26-6 loss to No. 10 Ohio State last week.
Against the Buckeyes, Przystup punted five times averaging 46.2 yards. He also pinned the ball within OSU’s 20-yard line twice, and had two punts longer than 50 yards.