Thursday, July 2, 2020

Halftime Thoughts: Neon jerseys and offense return for Michigan State in first half against Illinois

November 9, 2019
Redshirt freshman running back Elijah Collins (24) stiff arms a defender during the game against Illinois Nov. 9, 2019 at Spartan Stadium.
Redshirt freshman running back Elijah Collins (24) stiff arms a defender during the game against Illinois Nov. 9, 2019 at Spartan Stadium. —
Photo by Matt Schmucker | The State News

That half had to feel good.

For the first time over a month, the Michigan State football team didn't look overwhelmed. Saturday evening in Spartan Stadium, Michigan State were the aggressors. The Spartans brought back the neon alternate jerseys and their offense came with them. Michigan State gained over 300 yards in the first half, and found the end zone four times to take a 28-10 lead into the break.

Here are some quick thoughts from halftime in East Lansing

So, this is what offense looks like:

Michigan State equaled the total amount of touchdowns that it scored during its three-game losing streak on its first two offensive possession against the Illini. The Spartans went fast, played with a purpose and it showed in their offensive production.

Fifth-year quarterback Brian Lewerke led a 10 play, 78-yard drive, that ended in a 1-yard touchdown plunge from Elijah Collins to put Michigan State up 7-0. Collins gained 35 yards on the possession, including a 22-yard run to move the Spartans within the Illinois 30-yard line.

With the Spartans leading 21-3 in the second quarter, Collins added his second touchdown of the game, this time from 6-yards out.

The Spartans rushed for 133 yards in the half, behind a young starting offensive line. True freshmen J.D. Duplain and Nick Samac started for the Spartans at left tackle and center respectively.

Forty two of those yards came on Michigan State's second touchdown, when Lewerke faked a jet sweep to Anthony Williams, and went untouched into the end zone to get the Spartans a 14-3 lead. After Collins opened the drive with a 13-yard gain, Lewerke connected with Cody White for a 21-yard gain two plays later, and Lewerke found the end zone on the ensuing play.

White caught six passes for 104 yards, while Lewerke finished the half 14-for-22 for 203 yards, one touchdown and two interceptions — both on tipped passes.

Starting lineup changes:

Michigan State had numerous different looks on both the offensive and defensive sides of the ball against Illinois. Just as they did with the offensive line, the Spartans went younger at skill positions as well. True freshmen Tre Mosley and Julian Barnett each started at wide receiver.

Mosley, who saw his first college snaps two weeks ago against Penn State, scored his first career touchdown to give the Spartans a 21-3 lead early in the second quarter.

True freshmen Anthony Williams and Brandon Wright saw time during the first half as well, combining for 16 rushing yards on seven carries.

Defensively, the Spartans had to replace a senior leader in middle linebacker Joe Bachie, who is suspended the rest of the season for a failed drug test. Tyriq Thompson and Antjuan Simmons each saw time in the middle of the MSU defense, while Noah Harvey found himself in the starting lineup as an outside linebacker.

Jeslord Boateng and Chase Kline saw time at linebacker in the first half as well.

Shakur Brown started at cornerback for the Spartans, opposite of Josiah Scott, in place of Josh Butler. Brown was beat for a 46-yard touchdown by Josh Imatorbhebhe on the final play of the half.

Standing alone in MSU Football history:

Following his touchdown run, Lewerke became the first quarterback in Michigan State history to throw for 7,000 yards in his career, while also rushing for over 1,000 yards. The senior has, at minimum, three games left to build on those numbers, and a possible fourth if the Spartans become bowl eligible before the end of the season.

Michigan State travels to Ann Arbor next weekend to play Michigan, then goes out to New Jersey for its final road trip against Rutgers. The Spartans return home for a senior day matchup against Maryland on Nov. 30.

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