Brian Lewerke didn’t make it clear whether or not he’ll play against Oregon in the Redbox Bowl after practice Thursday.
All the Michigan State quarterback could say when asked was, “I’m not allowed to talk about whether I can play or not," but, other than saying the unknown right-shoulder injury that’s bugged him since a win at Penn State on Oct. 13 “definitely feels better.”
Lewerke said the Spartans’ offense is looking to achieve goals set at the beginning of the year when MSU (7-5, 5-4 in Big Ten) takes on the Ducks (8-5, 5-4 in Pac-12) on New Year’s Eve.
The first plan is running the ball effectively, in which the Spartans rank 115th in the nation (122 yards per game). Second, is to “get as many yards as we can,” which MSU ranks 116th in the country in (343 yards per game).
And thirdly, the most obvious, score more points than the other team. The Spartans are currently tied for 121st in the nation (19.8 points per game).
“I think points is the main thing,” Lewerke said. “Scoring touchdowns, especially in the red zone — we only had one touchdown in the last three games. That’s something that needs to change.”
The Spartans have only scored 30-plus points in three out of 12 games this season — all within the first four games of the season (38 against Utah State Aug. 31, 35 against Indiana on Sept. 22 and 31 against Central Michigan on Sept. 29)
Compare that to last year, when MSU had 30-plus points in five out of 13 games last season, including a 42-point performance in a win over Washington State in the Holiday Bowl finish 10-3. Which Lewerke, and the rest of the team, hopes the offense can repeat against the Ducks.
“The way the team feels right now, I can definitely see that,” Lewerke said. “If we score 42, that would be awesome.”
The offense has “really clicked a lot better than in the past,” according to Lewerke which it’ll need to against a Pac-12 defense isn’t like a normal Pac-12 defense, he stated.
“They’re very physical,” Lewerke said. “Their D-line is very good … Their corners and secondary are all solid. Athletic guys who can all run with receivers. They’re a very solid defense.”
A defense which now has to face senior running back L.J. Scott, who said he decided to play in the Redbox Bowl after declaring for the NFL Draft to help his draft stock, since he’s played sparingly in four games this season.
“It was a tough call, but I also felt like it would be good for me, for the fact I didn’t really play all season,” Scott said. “So, I think it’ll be good for me to show Spartan nation, and NFL scouts as well, (me) one more time with Spartan gear on.”
This is an opportunity for Scott to help Lewerke and MSU’s offense gain some momentum for the 2019 season and not repeat what happened this season.
“Like last year in the Holiday Bowl, we scored a ton of points and looked really good, but came out and didn’t have so good a season,” Lewerke said. “Hopefully we’ll have a great bowl game and a great next year too. That’s what we’re hoping for.”
DT Raequan Williams staying for senior year; Joe Bachie, Kenny Willekes still thinking
While Layne and Scott have made their decisions to leave for the NFL, defensive tackle Raequan Williams told Chris Solari of the Detroit Free Press on Twitter Friday morning he's coming back to MSU for his senior year.
The 6-foot-4, 300-pound junior was named to third team All-Big Ten by the coaches and media this season. He has 49 total tackles, including second on the team in tackles for loss with 9.5, along with 1.5 sacks and five pass breakups.
And he has 108 career total tackles along with six sacks, while starting in 28 starts in his 36 games played over the course of the last three seasons.
This also means Williams will stay paired with defensive tackle Mike Panasiuk, and help lead the No. 1-ranked run defense in 2018 (81.3 yards per game). Or in defensive tackles coach Ron Burton's words, Williams and Panasiuk are MSU's "salt and pepper."
"When they walk in they're together, when they sit down at the table in the meeting room they're together, when they're out after practice they're together," Burton said to reporters Oct. 10. "We really enjoy them that's for sure."
For other potential NFL players like junior defensive end Kenny Willekes and junior linebacker Joe Bachie, they told reporters Thursday they’ll wait to make a decision after the Redbox Bowl.
Though, Lewerke said Thursday Bachie was planning to move into his, Willekes' and offensive lineman Tyler Higby's house that night, taking now-graduated safety Grayson Miller's spot.
For on the field matters, however, it's all about Oregon.
“My biggest focus is on the bowl game right now, then after that we’ll see,” Willekes said.
Reactions on cornerback Justin Layne skipping Redbox Bowl for NFL
But, Layne’s teammates understand why he made the decision to prevent any possibility of getting injured and hurting his draft stock.
“I think it was smart,” L.J. Scott said. “Obviously, you don’t wanna get hurt, he's very cautious about getting hurt. So, going out that way I think is smart. I’m sure if he was healthy, he would play in the bowl game with his teammates as well."
And Layne and fellow cornerback, sophomore Josiah Scott, talked about whether Layne should go to the NFL now constantly throughout this season, Josiah said.
“Like I’ve said, I couldn’t be more proud of him,” Josiah said. “He became the man this year and did his thing. I’m with him all the way on his decision.”