A 7-6 record left Michigan State with more questions than answers at the end of last season. They won some thrilling games, on the road against eighth-ranked Penn State as an example. They also lost some head-scratching games along the way. The 9-6 special teams battle at Nebraska sticks out as a game they could have won. Following a 7-6 defeat at the hands of the Oregon Ducks in the 2018 Redbox Bowl, the Spartans will look to right the ship heading into the 2019 campaign. Today, we look at an early offensive preview for Michigan State.
Michigan State football: Looking At The offense
It was no secret that the Spartans struggled last season on the offensive side of the football. They averaged just 342.1 yards per game with 124.8 coming on the ground and 217.2 through the air.
Starting quarterback Brian Lewerke struggled early on in the season and the offense seemed stagnant under his command. Head coach Mark Dantonio then turned to his redshirt freshman Rocky Lombardi who then seemed to provide life to the offense. Lombardi would then struggle as the two would rotate heading to the end of the season.
At the end of the season, Lewerke finished 184-339 passing with 11 interceptions against eight touchdowns and 2,040 yards. Lombardi was 68-154 passing with 738 yards, three interceptions against three touchdowns.
In 2019, Brad Salem was promoted to offensive coordinator after serving as the quarterbacks’ coach. He will also lead the Spartan running back corps. Former offensive coordinator Dave Warner was moved to quarterbacks coach for the 2019 season.
Based on stats alone, look for Lewerke to earn most of the reps under center for the Spartans. He will most likely be revitalized and be ready for the 2019 season to begin, although he will be on a short leash.
Sophomore tailback Connor Heyward led Michigan State with 529 yards and five scores on 118 carries. He also gained 249 yards in the receiving game to solidify himself as a dual threat in the backfield.
Heyward found himself in the fire early in the season as senior LJ Scott was held out of eight games last season. He was still able to muster 264 yards on 79 carries. Scott declared for next month’s NFL Draft and his time with Sparty came to a close at the end of last season.
Sophomore La’Darius Jefferson helped bolster the Spartan backfield with 255 yards on 78 carries and two scores. He will play paramount in the rotation helping fill in for Heyward when he needs a break.
With that being said, look for Heyward to tote the ball more for the Spartans with Jefferson working behind him.
The loss of senior Felton Davis III to graduation (and potentially the NFL Draft) leaves a void in the Spartan receiving corps. He had 31 grabs for 474 yards and four scores last season for the Spartans.
Now, the Spartans will turn to Darnell Stewart Jr. who led them in catches last season with 48 catches and 413 yards with one touchdown. He is at top of the Michigan State depth chart and will look to provide leadership in its receiving stable.
Jalen Nailor and Cody White return and add a combined 50 catches for 698 yards and four touchdowns. White had the majority of the catches with 42 and a team-best 555 yards. The combination of Stewart, White and Nailor will provide the spark and steadiness for the passing game. If those receivers and quarterbacks can gel together, the Spartans look to be another top-program in the Big Ten Conference.
Dantonio has used the pro-style offense for most, if not all, of his time in East Lansing That style requires the prolific use of a tight end in the passing game.
Matt Dotson was the guy last season, he hauled in 14 catches for 159 yards and one touchdown. Most of his work was done in a pinch when the Spartans needed yards or when it needed a big play.
The sophomore will be the go-to guy again this season as he is the only one on the depth chart at the position.
Michigan State allowed 26 sacks last season, which averages out to two per game. They finished tied for 53rd in the country with Texas and Wyoming with an average of two per game.
Starting left guard Tyler Higby is listed at second-string left tackle and third-string center and his versatility promotes depth for the Spartans.
The projected starting offensive line stacks up like this:
LT Cole Chewins
LG Tyler Higby
RG Kevin Jarvis
RT Jordan Reid
MSU will host its annual spring game on Saturday, April 13 at 2 p.m. in Spartan Stadium. The Green and White Game pits members of the Spartans against one another for a scrimmage in the culmination of spring practice.