Brian Lewerke and the rest of the Michigan State football team used this past week off to reset themselves. Lewerke also used it as a chance to take a trip to Ford Field and catch the Lions game against the Vikings.
He sat in the stands wearing a Matthew Stafford jersey, but naturally cheered on former Spartan quarterback Kirk Cousins. He watched as Cousins torched the Lions defense for 250 yards and three touchdowns.
Cousins has been the talk of scrutiny during a large part of this year's NFL season. The Vikings offense has looked average, at best, when Cousins has struggled to make plays downfield. But when he is one, and confident, like he was in his return to his home state last weekend, he can sling it with the best of them.
Much like Cousins, Lewerke's play directly changes MSU offensive production. When his confidence is high Michigan State's offense takes on a new look. In recent games that look has been an eyesore. And it's something Lewerke looks to change as the Spartans host No. 6 Penn State this Saturday at Spartan Stadium (3:30 p.m. ABC).
“I think, honestly, when I don’t play well the offense probably won’t play well just because the ball touches the quarterback's hands every play and he decides to hand it off, decides to throw it, all that stuff," Lewerke said. "So obviously you have to have consistent football play from the quarterback position.”
During MSU's two-game losing streak against Ohio State and Wisconsin, the offense has scored a total of 10 points and punted 16 times. In Michigan State's four wins this season, Lewerke has thrown for over 1,000 yards and 10 touchdowns. He's hit receivers in stride, made big time plays downfield and has taken care of the ball with only one interception.
But in MSU's three losses, the fifth-year quarterback has only thrown for 562 yards, one touchdown and two interceptions — along with a fumble against Arizona State.
“I think up until the Wisconsin game I was seeing the field well," Lewerke said. "I think that game, a little bit, I took a step back. I really couldn’t feel like I could see the field very well. I think they covered our routes very well. But overall I think I've done a decent job.”
Lewerke threw for 53 yards in Michigan State's 38-0 loss to the Badgers, along with an interception that was returned for a touchdown, before being pulled for Rocky Lombardi. Lewerke's play wasn't a direct result to Michigan State's offensive struggles, but it did play a major role in the lack of production from the unit.
"I don't think that anybody played as well as they had; I thought from an offensive perspective, we took a step backwards in that football game," coach Mark Dantonio said during his Tuesday press conference. "Prior to the Ohio State game when we crossed the 50 seven times, I believe, and had some different things going, but sort of stalled out for whatever reason because of a dropped pass or whatever before the half.
"But, I don't think he played as well as he had previously, but maybe none of us did. Coaching, as well. So again, I have high expectations. We have high expectations and this is a guy who I think two years ago threw for over 400 yards against Penn State. He's fully capable and we'll look for him to play a great football game, and I think as our quarterback goes, so goes your offense."
During his college career, Lewerke has had tons of success against the Nittany Lions. In the Spartans' 27-24 win in 2017, Lewerke threw for 400 yards and two touchdowns. Then, in last year's meeting, Lewerke led the Spartan offense on an 8-play, 76-yard drive to help MSU upset Penn State 21-17.
“It's definitely good for me, I've played against this team in 2017 when they had multiple NFL guys," Lewerke said. "This year they will have multiple NFL guys, and to be able to play well against them and get wins, I think it's a confidence booster for me and I think everyone on the offense too.”
Whether Lewerke took a lesson from Cousins last weekend as he sat in his Ford Field bleacher seat remains to be seen. His play, and confidence, on Saturday will dictate that.
But if there was ever a time for MSU's quarterback, and its offense to get back on track, it starts against the Nittany Lions.
"... Same thing can be said whether you're looking at any football team I think out there," Dantonio said. "As your offense goes, your quarterback is moving with them. I think that's just part of football."