Michigan State was in the fight of its life late in Saturday's game against Indiana. But, that didn't stop fifth-year quarterback Brian Lewerke from voicing his opinion on what was happening during the game.
"Brian Lewerke comes to the huddle and it's sort of tight, crunch time and he says, 'This is fun,' and I sort of just looked at him," Michigan State Head Coach Mark Dantonio said after the Spartans' 40-31 win over the Hoosiers.
It isn't too shocking why Lewerke was having fun. He entered Saturday's game third in the Big Ten in passing yards. And he followed that up with another night of solid performance against the Hoosiers.
Lewerke threw for 300 yards and three touchdowns, two to wideout Darrell Stewart Jr. and one to tight end Matt Seybert on 18-for-36 passing against IU.
This season, he has thrown for over 1,300 yards, 10 scores and only one interception.
"He made all the plays that you need to make in a football game, really from the onset," Dantonio said.
So, that fun talk came from a senior quarterback who is playing as confident as ever.
Though, nobody else had the guts to say that to Dantonio in the middle of a game that wasn't a sure victory yet, that confidence resonated throughout Michigan State's offense.
For the first time this season, the Spartans put out a very productive product offensively in back to back weeks.
And they too, are playing as confident as they have in years.
Michigan State followed up its 31-10 win against Northwestern to open conference play — the first time the Spartans scored over 30 points against a Power Five opponent since September of 2018 — by racking up 442 yards of offense against Indiana.
“I think execution is always so key to it," Dantonio said of MSU's offense on his Sunday phone conference.
"They get a lot of different things coming at them in terms of different fronts and different pressures, blitzes and things of that nature. If they can recognize what they are getting, then they can execute. Play-calling is a factor as well, but every play should work. It's the execution of each play. It's the throw and the catch and it's the block-protection and it's the run-protection, the run blocking and things of that nature, the angles."
On its first offensive possession, Michigan State moved down the field with ease before the drive stalled just outside of the end zone. Junior kicker Matt Coghlin missed the ensuing 44-yard field goal. But, just as it did numerous times when hit with adversity by the Hoosiers, MSU's offense responded.
On the next possession, Lewerke led the offense back downfield before Elijah Collins concluded the drive with a 4-yard touchdown. The quarterback-running back combination added 134 yards on the ground between them.
Two drives later, Lewerke connected with Stewart Jr. for a five-yard touchdown. And just before halftime, the senior combo duplicated their production by adding a 26-yard touchdown.
Lewerke added a 10-yard touchdown to Seybert, his third score in two games, while Coghlin made up for his missed field goal by converting a 43-yard field goal as well as the game-winning 21-yard field goal.
There were still some bumps in the road, a drive for instance in the first quarter that ended in a turnover on downs after Lewerke failed to connect with Anthony Williams Jr. which could have resulted in a touchdown. Then on the ensuing play, La'Darius Jefferson was stopped short on fourth-and-1.
“I feel like we missed a couple of opportunities, but for the most part, (we) played very well offensively and usually when we score over 30 points we’ve won football games over the course of time,” Dantonio said.
But for the most part, the execution on all levels of the offense was there.
After an up and down start to the season, where it looked like the offense was ready to take a step forward, it proceeded by taking two steps back. The Spartans have finally found a steady balance that carried over for multiple games.
The next test comes Saturday when the Spartans travel to Columbus to play No. 4 Ohio State (7:30 p.m., ABC). MSU will need to carry any and all sorts of offensive momentum it has created the past two weeks to have a shot at pulling off the road upset.
If that means to keep having fun like Lewerke, even in the most stressful times, so be it.
And the newfound trust and belief running through the core of the Spartan offense will do wonders as well.
"I think that what we needed offensively is we needed confidence in what was being called," Dantonio said. "In doing what we needed to do and the execution of it. I think we’re getting that. I think we right now have a quarterback that’s extremely confident and wide receivers that are confident.”
Michigan State linebacker Antjuan Simmons diagnosed the play right away. On a fourth-and-1 near midfield, Simmons shot into the backfield like he came from a lit cannon and blew up an Indiana jet sweep for a loss of seven yards.
Turnover on downs.
A week after fellow linebacker Joe Bachie set a career-high in tackles with 14 against Northwestern, Simmons looked poised to follow that effort up with one of his own. The junior from Ann Arbor finished one shy of accomplishing that feat, but did finish second on the Spartan defense with nine tackles and 2.5 tackles for loss against the Hoosiers.
“Antjuan Simmons played a lot last year, probably about 30 percent of the time and was very productive at that time. He’s got a good handle on things," Dantonio said. "I think he was at the point of attack a lot because he’s our outside back, our star linebacker and he’s lined up over the slot a lot."
Through MSU's five games, Simmons has accumulated 33 total tackles as well as 1.5 sacks in the beginning of a breakout season. And after Andrew Dowell graduated last season, Simmons has provided a sense of stability to the outside linebacker spot in his first chance at being the long-term starter.
"He was pretty active yesterday," Dantonio said. "He’s got to leverage the ball a little better but he had some big, big plays in the game as well."
Michigan State's offensive line took another hit Saturday when Blake Bueter, a redshirt sophomore from Howell, Michigan, went down with an injury.
During his phone conference, Dantonio would not give a direct status of Bueter, stating that he doesn't talk about injuries, but did mention that Bueter would not be a long-term issue.
Bueter filtered in at right guard for Matt Carrick who started the game. True freshman J.D. Duplain saw some time at the position as well.
“As far as J.D. we went into the game saying he needed to play some," Dantonio said. "He's been practicing well. We also went into the game saying all three of them (Duplain, Devontae Dobbs and Nick Samac) may play. (I've) been very impressed with those guys and they will have an opportunity to play. I think the game experience does them a lot of service in terms of getting ready for game time and I think they are productive players.”
Dantonio mentioned that he expects Duplain as well as Dobbs and Samac, the other true freshman offensive linemen, to play again this season.
Dantonio also stated that defensive back Shakur Brown is "close" after missing the Spartans' last four games.
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