Sunday, September 27, 2020

'That's got to be our focus': Michigan State finally found the end zone, but now look to do it more frequently

October 27, 2019
<p>Senior quarterback Brian Lewerke (14) is tackled during the game against Penn State Oct. 26, 2019 at Spartan Stadium. The Spartans fell to the Nittany Lions, 28-7.</p>

Senior quarterback Brian Lewerke (14) is tackled during the game against Penn State Oct. 26, 2019 at Spartan Stadium. The Spartans fell to the Nittany Lions, 28-7.

Photo by Matt Schmucker | The State News

Michigan State quarterback Brian Lewerke pitched the ball backwards to Anthony Williams Jr. and the true freshman running back jogged into the end zone for a touchdown. And just like that, the streak was finally over.

Twenty-five consecutive offensive possessions. Eight straight quarters. Zero points.

The Spartans found the end zone and their offensive nightmare was over — only they were still down 28-7 late in the third quarter. But points are points, and progress is progress.

Michigan State was once again let down by its offensive unit with a lack of production and drives that continued to stall out in its 28-7 loss to No. 6 Penn State Saturday afternoon at Spartan Stadium.

RELATED: Spartan losing streak stretches to three as Penn State handles Michigan State

“Football is a tough game. Football is a highly complicated game yet basic game, I would say. … From my perspective, we need to execute better," Michigan State Head Coach Mark Dantonio said following the game. "There are things we could do from a call situation. A lot of those same plays are the same plays that other people run as well. Timing and who to go to and those types of things. But, we’ll look at everything.

“Everything gets looked at. Nobody is more disappointed at production then the offensive coaches or the offensive players. We’re just going to keep recollecting ourselves and move forward. We’re at 4-4 and as tough as it is to say that, because I know everybody wants us to be 8-0 right now, but we’re 4-4. We’ve played four very good football teams. And I think we should be a very good football team again, too. But right now we’re not playing well enough to be that very good football team. So we need to recollect ourselves, and get ready for Illinois.”

Dating back to the first half of their Oct. 5 game at Ohio State, the Spartans have scored a total of two touchdowns, a 20-yard touchdown pass from Lewerke to Darrell Stewart Jr. and Williams' 4-yard scamper. In the ten quarters since Stewart's catch, Michigan State's offense has punted 20 times, missed a chip-shot field goal and turned the ball over seven times.

In Saturday's loss, the Spartans' 14 drives resulted in seven punts — four of which were 3-and-outs — four turnovers, a blocked punt, a sack on a Hail Mary attempt before the end of the first half as well as Williams' touchdown.

RELATED: Game Notes: Michigan State's quarterback shuffle comes full circle, injury notes and freshman game tracker

Once again, MSU had its opportunities. Four of its offensive possession crossed midfield. Those ended in a punt, a blocked field goal, the end of the half and a fumble.

"For me I am a pretty calm guy, a calm individual. So for me, I just look at it next play," redshirt freshman running back Elijah Collins said. "It is a game of inches. You could score on one play, or maybe its a drive, you just never know. You just have to keep pushing."

When MSU's defense forced a punt or turnover, the offense couldn't capitalize. The Nittany Lions opened the game with a 3-and-out — but so did the Spartans. After Penn State's second punt following two-consecutive scoring drives, the Spartans drove down the field only to have Matt Coghlin's 46-yard field goal blocked by Penn State's Shaka Toney.

When Penn State quarterback Sean Clifford threw an ill-advised interception to David Dowell, Lewerke threw one right back on the ensuing play.

RELATED: Michigan State kills second half hopes with turnovers

Lewerke was responsible for two of Michigan State's turnovers and finished with only 165 yards passing. His fumble came after the Nittany Lions punted on their next possession.

The fifth-year quarterback stayed on par with Dantonio and said that execution is still what's holding the Spartan offense back.

“We’re just focused on what we can do this week, getting better in the bye week,” Lewerke said.

Don't be fooled, Michigan State's players hear the noise and the grumbles. And despite the unit's struggles, the only way they know how to get through this is being a tight-knit group.  

“We just got to stay together," running back Elijah Collins said. "You got the crowd, you got everybody saying this and that, people saying this and that. We just have to stay together as a group because at the end of the day, we just have to make plays. That’s all.” 

That's been the biggest problem for the Spartans — making plays, and more precisely, scoring plays. For the first time in eight quarters, the Michigan State finally accomplished that.

So, progress.

But until that happens more often, the Spartans will face the same exact problems they have during this three-game losing streak.

“Our stats don’t look horrible. Before the last couple of drives, we were just trying to get something going," Lewerke said. "We were better on third down than them. ... We actually had an identical amount of first downs.

"So just scoring the ball, we got to be able to do that better. That’s got to be our focus.”

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