Thursday, October 22, 2020

For Michigan State to be great, its offense needs to be respectable

Redshirt senior quarterback Brian Lewerke (14) takes the snap during the game against Tulsa at Spartan Stadium Aug. 30, 2019. The Spartans defeated the Golden Hurricane, 28-7.
Redshirt senior quarterback Brian Lewerke (14) takes the snap during the game against Tulsa at Spartan Stadium Aug. 30, 2019. The Spartans defeated the Golden Hurricane, 28-7. —
Photo by Matt Schmucker | The State News

No. 18 Michigan State kept the offense a secret. Every question that was asked to coaches or players throughout the offseason was met with a "just wait and see" type of response.

But when it was finally time to reveal the big secret ... meh.

Offensively, the Spartans produced a mixed bag in its 28-7 season-opening win against Tulsa Friday night. There were some noticeable adjustments, a lot more aggressiveness, especially on fourth down, but also, a lot of the same problems that led to ineffectiveness last season.

It's what kept Michigan State from running the score up on the Golden Hurricane rather than its 21-point win that occurred. It wouldn't have taken a lot for the former to occur. MSU's historic defensive performance gave it a chance to be. The offense had to be respectable.

Let's dissect.

Here was the great: The opening drive.

MSU ran fast — even though they were helped by a couple of penalties. It mixed in some run-pass options, Brian Lewerke used his legs when he had to and didn't force throws downfield. He took what was given to him: short routes to the outside and check downs, which he utilized in his lone touchdown to pass to Connor Heyward.

It was, really, the perfect start for a fanbase and team that was hungry to come out with a fuse lit.

But here is where there was some cause for concern.

The interior of MSU's offensive line failed to get a push, just like last season. The Spartans failed to generate any sort of running game, just like last season. And drops and penalties became an issue, a lot like last season.

Now, there are some things to understand. Michigan State's play-calling was mellow, and outside of the first drive, and a little uninspiring. But, it was always going to be like that. Mark Dantonio and new offensive coordinator Brad Salem weren't going to roll out the red carpet on the offensive, or look to the back of the playbook, to beat Tulsa unless they were in a situation where they had to.

And it's probably going to be like that against Western Michigan next week as well.

“There is no magic play," Dantonio said following MSU's 28-7 win against Tulsa. "Everybody runs the outside zone, everybody runs the inside zone, everybody runs power, everybody runs counters. It's execution. You have to get guys to the edge of the defense sometime. You have to outnumber them sometimes and sometimes they outnumber you."

That's exactly where the problem lies: execution.

Michigan State can continue to run zone, power and counters. But, if the offensive line can't generate a push at the line of scrimmage, the Spartans will continue to play behind the sticks. If MSU continues to take points off the board at the hands of holding penalites and false starts, it will continue to settle for field goals instead of touchdowns.

"We had a great fall camp, I think, and it is a little frustrating," Lewerke said. "That's just how it is, I guess the first game, you got to get that out of your system."

Michigan State can't afford to waste another generationally great defense. Not again. So, if it is just a bug in the system like Lewerke thinks, the Spartans better figure it out faster. Because, MSU's offense doesn't need to be great for that to happen.

Just respectable.

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