Michigan State's game of musical chairs came full circle within a span of three drives in the fourth quarter of the Spartans' 28-7 loss to No. 6 Penn State.
Fifth-year starting quarterback Brian Lewerke struggled for the second game in a row. And with the Spartans trailing 28-7 early in the fourth quarter, Lewerke's fumble — his second turnover of the game — was the last thing Michigan State Head Coach Mark Dantonio needed to see.
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When the Spartan offense trotted out on the field for their next possession, it was Rocky Lombardi that emerged from the sidelines rather than Lewerke.
“I felt like, just like anybody in any major league baseball team, that sometimes maybe you need to bring in another guy to see what he's got tonight," Dantonio said. "I think the fair thing to do at that point in time is to find out what he's got tonight”
Lombardi lasted two offensive drive — six plays in total. The Spartans gained 8 yards during that span, and Lombardi completed one of his five attempts. So, Dantonio went to another option.
“When that didn't work, I felt like the next step would be to come back and give Theo (Day) a shot because I think the game experience is as important as anything and he had not had any game experience,” Dantonio said.
The six foot, five inch, 222 pound redshirt freshman from Canton, Michigan played in his first college game earlier this season against Western Michigan. When he came in against Penn State, the Spartans' offense did something it struggled to do all night — move the ball.
Day's first pass was completed to true freshman wideout Tre Mosley. On fourth-and-2 he added a four-yard pass to Julian Barnett to move the chains. But that was all the time Day saw because Lewerke re-entered the game on the next play.
“You have to be able to at least execute and operate. I felt like putting him in the game would give him his first chance to really play football for us on the field," Dantonio said of Day following the game. "We were trying to give him an opportunity to show what he can do a little bit and maybe spark us a little bit. But also give him a taste of all this. This was his first time in there and I'm sure he'll be better, but I didn't feel like he was going to allow us – he didn't give us the best chance to score."
When asked why Dantonio decided to bring him back in, Lewerke said that Day had called a wrong play which prompted his benching.
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On Lewerke's first play back, the most experienced quarterback on Michigan State's roster fumbled the snap, which the Spartans recovered, but center Matt Allen was injured on the play and didn't return into the game. The Spartans punted two plays later. And on their next offensive possession, they went back to Lombardi — who promptly threw an interception on the first play.
“Went back to the other guy because I felt like 'I'm trying to score a touchdown' so (I) went back to Lewerke at the end because I felt like he gave us the best shot," Dantonio said. "We're going to keep trying to go to different people and give them opportunities, but they have to make good on those opportunities too.
"I don't think putting in Rocky (Lombardi) in there was the white flag in terms of our experiences with Lewerke. I still think he gives us the best chance to win football games, I truly do and that's the bottom line.”
Returners and Hurters
A large group of players returned from injury for Michigan State against the Nittany, while another large group were hampered with various injuries.
Darrell Stewart Jr. didn't play in the second half, and wasn't sen on the sideline, while right tackle Jordan Reid and Allen went down in injuries late in the game and didn't return. Linebacker Tyriq Thompson and defensive end Jacub Panasiuk each came off the field with injuries but returned to action, as did tight end Matt Seybert and running back Elijah Collins.
Cornerback Shakur Brown, tight end Trenton Gillison, defensive end Michael Fletcher and offensive tackle A.J. Arcuri all returned from various injuries. Brown had missed six games in a row following Michigan State's 28-7 win against Tulsa in week one, and recorded five tackles in his return.
Arcuri had been out for five straight games before he returned against the Nittany Lions as MSU's starting left tackle. Fletcher dressed for the first time the season after he dealt with a foot injury that has kept him out since training camp. Gillison, who didn't travel to Wisconsin, returned for the Spartans and didn't record a catch, though he was targeted two times.
J.D. Duplain became the third true freshman on Michigan State's roster to burn his redshirt after he participated in his fifth game this season. He joined Barnett and long snapper Jude Pedrozo in the group.
In his first college football game, West Bloomfield, Michigan native Tre Mosley recorded four catches for 37 yards, which tied Matt Dotson for the team lead in receiving against the Nittany Lions
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“I think Tre Mosley went out there and caught the ball well in traffic, made some difficult catches – I don't think he dropped one and they were close; there were some 50-50 catches there," Dantonio said of the true freshman wideout.
Running back Brandon Wright also recorded his first college carries and finished Saturday's game with two carries for 5 yards.
“I think Brandon Wright poured it up in there a little bit," Dantonio said. "He's getting experience; he's got a lot of talent. We could probably use him a little bit more. It became a little bit more of a passing game as things continued on."
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