Defense dominates in annual spring game
Amidst the unrest over the prospective neon alternates, MSU played its annual spring game Saturday, as the defense imposed a 42-26 victory over the offense.
"In these scrimmages I'm always going to create three red zone opportunities or sudden-change opportunities for the offense to make the defense play with their backs to the wall and in the red zone," Dantonio said postgame. "I think that's important that they do that, that they have to be to roll up and play. Consequently you have to be able to take advantage of the red zone when you have that opportunity."
The first series featured senior quarterback Brian Lewerke and the all-white offense against the second-team Spartan green defense.
Lewerke’s first ball was thrown behind senior receiver Darrell Stewart and nearly intercepted by junior safety Tre Person. Following a loss of two yards and a dump-off over the middle to sophomore receiver Jalen Nailor, the offense received a reset on downs inside its own 50 with no points awarded to the defense.
The stagnant offense was able to capitalize. Lewerke started to flash his touch for the first time in recent memory, finally connecting with Stewart for a 23-yard gain. Sophomore tailback La’Darius Jefferson remained the bellcow on the offense’s opening drive, falling forward for vital chunks of yardage and setting up the scrimmage’s first score.
"La'Darius, he's a hard-nosed runner," fifth-year senior linebacker Tyriq Thompson said. "He's always going to run the ball hard, try and get those extra yards and, if you look at the next level in the NFL, that's pretty much what those running backs try and do."
Lewerke placed a 10-yard touchdown where only his receiver Stewart could reach it and gave his offense a 7-3 lead. The defense was credited with three points after the score with under four minutes in the opening quarter.
In the first series of the second quarter, junior quarterback Rocky Lombardi, on his third consecutive series, continued to flourish in his understudy role with a 31-yard touchdown to Stewart. The offense would tack on a field goal as the defense earned three stops for a 17-15 lead in favor of the white at half.
"One thing that Michigan State does, we just put guys in there and know they can make plays," Stewart said. "I feel like no matter what quarterback is in, everybody is acclimated to the offense."
The second half’s opening drive featured the first sample of both first-team units, as the matchup swung in favor of the ever-sound Spartan defense.
Sixth-year senior Brandon Sowards appeared to have beaten junior cornerback Josiah Scott on a deep post ball from Lewerke, but Scott ripped the pass away to give the defense a 18-17 lead.
"That was a fantastic play by him," Lewerke said of Scott. "I could've maybe thrown the ball a little farther.... I wanted to just touch it down there and make sure that I could just give him a catchable ball and not overthtrow him."
The white team had an opportunity to regain the lead as the score read 24-20 with just under eight minutes to play.
Lombardi committed a crucial mistake in the red zone, however, as his pass was picked off by sophomore defensive end Zach Slade, who ran the turnover back into offensive territory.
The 27-20 deficit proved too much for the offense to overcome, as the defense continued to string together decisive stops and increase its lead to 36-20.
Lewerke and the offense would attempt to reassert themselves in the contest with 2:40 to play, but Heyward’s 50-yard touchdown on a screen proved futile for the white. Trailing 36-26, the offense committed yet another turnover with Slade once again being the beneficiary; junior running back Weston Bridges’ fumble fell into the edge rusher’s hands.
"They (the offense) were pretty basic and that's what we did, offense and defensive-wise. Just showing basic stuff. But they had a lot of energy and came out ready to play today," Scott said. "I feel like they had some unforced turnovers, some turnovers that they could eliminate, but both sides of the ball played with great energy."
The defense would close the contest with its 42-26 advantage to secure the win.