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'Ready to come out and move some people': Michigan State's offensive line heads into Penn State matchup with motivation

October 25, 2019
<p>Freshman offensive guard Kevin Jarvis (75) and redshirt freshman offensive tackle Luke Campbell (62) block for a run play during the game against Penn State, on Nov. 4, 2017, at Spartan Stadium. The Spartans defeated the Nittany Lions, 27-24.</p>

Freshman offensive guard Kevin Jarvis (75) and redshirt freshman offensive tackle Luke Campbell (62) block for a run play during the game against Penn State, on Nov. 4, 2017, at Spartan Stadium. The Spartans defeated the Nittany Lions, 27-24.

Photo by Matt Schmucker | The State News

Michigan State quarterback Brian Lewerke admits there are times he takes a seat at home, maybe a snack in hand, flips on a football game and sees what a productive run game does to an offensive unit.

“I think that’s what makes an efficient offense is keeping them guessing and being able to run the ball helps that a lot,” Lewerke said following Michigan State's practice on Tuesday.

During its current two-game losing streak, which included a 24-point loss at Ohio State and a 38-0 drubbing at Wisconsin, the Spartans' offense has been anything but efficient.

10 points. 16 punts. And maybe most importantly — no run game.

“There was a few things that went into it," junior lineman Luke Campbell said "They (Wisconsin) ran a trickier defense than I thought they would have ran. But they played a good game, they played a really good game, they executed. Every time they needed to execute, they executed and every time we needed to execute, it didn’t go our way.” 

For Michigan State's offensive line, execution is the name of the game. And following a week off, the unit looks to change its fortunes and dictate the line of scrimmage when MSU hosts No. 6 Penn State this Saturday at Spartan Stadium (3:30 p.m., ABC).

“It’s will, it’s technique. It’s knowing what to do, it’s not hesitating," Campbell said. "We’re not very satisfied with our performance at all, so we’re ready to come out and move some people.” 

As a team, Michigan State has rushed for over 100 yards just three times this season — the last time coming when the Spartans ran for 142 yards in their 40-31 win over Indiana. Since then, Michigan State rushed for 67 yards for 27 carries at Ohio State, and only 30 yards on 21 carries — 20 of which came on a fake punt — against Wisconsin.

“You've got to get your feet across the line of scrimmage," coach Mark Dantonio said during his Tuesday press conference. "Our offensive lineman's feet has got to get across the line of scrimmage. If you have a double to the second level, in other words, double-down guys that the second level, you have to get moving on the down guy first. You have to be able to block movement.” 

Another challenge awaits MSU's offensive line, in a Nittany Lions defense that has only given up 66.3 rush yards per game — good for fourth best in the country this season. Linebacker Micah Parsons leads Penn State's defense with 45 tackles and six tackles for loss, while Yetur Gross-Matos has added 23 tackles, nine tackles for loss and 5.5 sacks on the defensive line.

As a whole, Michigan State's run game has been an interesting dynamic throughout this season. The Spartans lost two of its most experienced backs in Connor Heyward and La'Darius Jefferson midseason due to the NCAA transfer portal. That left redshirt freshman Elijah Collins to lead a room filled with inexperienced players, including true freshmen Anthony Williams Jr. and Brandon Wright.

The Spartans' offensive line has dealt with injuries all year long. Cole Chewins, AJ Arcuri, Blake Bueter and Kevin Jarvis have all missed time during the season due to nagging issues. But, the week off before the Nittany Lions travel to East Lansing gave the unit a chance to bring back some healthy bodies.

Arcuri re-appeared on Michigan State's depth chart behind LT Tyler Higby, while Bueter was listed as the backup right guard behind Matt Carrick.

“It's important for sure, because we were getting low, so if another guy would have went down, then it would have been a little dangerous," Campbell said. "We got guys coming back now, we’re getting back to the team we had coming out of fall camp, which is good.” 

The group that Michigan State had out of fall camp began the year producing a rushing attack that gained 108 yards against Tulsa and 251 yards in Week 2 against Western Michigan. It may take getting back to a run game like that for the Spartans to pull off the upset over Penn State for the third consecutive year.

Michigan State knows that it starts up front with the offensive line.

“We got to execute, honestly," Campbell said. "That's what it comes down to. It doesn’t matter how hard you fight. If you can’t execute, we’re not going to win games. And it's just going to come down to which team executes the best and which team fights the hardest.”

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