Big Ten Spring Football Preview: Michigan State Spartans
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The page on 2016 can’t be turned quickly enough in East Lansing.
It’s time to move on and forget a very forgettable season for the Spartans, who are coming off a confounding campaign in which they went from a 12-2 mark and playoff spot in 2015 to a 3-9 record in 2016. It was an epic plummet for this proud program.
The Spartans had many issues in 2016, including inconsistent quarterback performance and spotty play in the trenches on both sides of the ball. Add it all up, and Michigan State endured its first losing season since 2009. It was also the first time the program missed a bowl since 2006. Mark Dantonio and company will move ahead, but they have work to do.
Here are three key areas to watch this spring in East Lansing, as the Spartans look to regain their mojo.
1. Quarterback. After Connor Cook started for three consecutive seasons, the Spartans started three different quarterbacks in 2016 (Tyler O’Connor, Brian Lewerke, Damion Terry). O’Connor is gone. Mark Dantonio said in his season-ending press conference that Brian Lewerke has “done enough to warrant him to be the guy to beat out.” Although Lewerke suffered a broken tibia in the Michigan game (Oct. 29), he should be ready for spring practice and will look to continue the development he showed last season. Lewerke played in four games for the Spartans as a redshirt freshman last year, including two starts (vs. Northwestern on Oct. 15, at Maryland on Oct. 22). He completed 31-of-57 passes for 381 yards, two touchdowns and one interception. Against the Wolverines, Lewerke was 6-of-10 passing for 100 yards, including a 20-yard touchdown pass to Monty Madaris. Behind Lewerke is senior Damion Terry who played last season and started at Penn State but has battled injuries; Messiah deWeaver was a true freshman last season (early enrollee) and also is battling.
2. Defensive line. After consistently ranking near the top of the Big Ten in sacks during the Dantonio era, the Spartans had a significant drop off last season with just 0.92 per game (11 total), which ranked last in the Big Ten and 124th in the FBS. MSU had a different starting lineup every game along the defensive line last season. But toward the end of the season, MSU was playing the wave of the future, including defensive tackles Mike Panasiuk (true freshman in 2016) and Raequan Williams (redshirt freshman in 2016). The Spartans showed promise against Ohio State on Nov. 19 with three sacks in a narrow 17-16 loss to the Buckeyes. Others to watch are senior end Demetrius Cooper and junior end Robert Bowers, among others.
3. Generate turnovers. MSU led the Big Ten and ranked in the FBS Top 10 in turnover margin for three straight years from 2013-15, but last season ranked 10th in the Big Ten and 98th in the FBS with a -0.42 turnover margin. The Spartans will once again look to create more turnovers in 2017. Linebackers like senior Chris Frey and junior Andrew Dowell need to be active.
MICHIGAN STATE SPRING INFO
Record: 3-9 overall; 1-8 Big Ten/6th East.
Spring ball starts: February 25
Spring game: April 1
Key players back: G Brian Allen; DE Robert Bowers; OT Cole Chewins; WR Donnie Corley; WR Felton Davis; LB Andrew Dowell; LB Chris Frey; P Jake Hartbarger; RB Gerald Holmes; CB Justin Layne; QB Brian Lewerke; DT Mike Panasiuk; RB L.J. Scott; DT Raequan Williams
Key players gone: LB Riley Bullough; FS Demetrious Cox; G Brandon Clemons; CB Darian Hicks; K Michael Geiger; OT Kodi Kieler; WR Monty Madaris; DT Malik McDowell; C Benny McGowan; S Montae Nicholson; TE Josiah Price; WR R.J. Shelton
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