3 Keys To The Season, Offense: #2, Use Lewerke Wisely

3 Keys To The Season, Offense: #2, Use Lewerke Wisely

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3 Keys To The Season, Offense: #2, Use Lewerke Wisely

We’re examining the three keys – on offense and defense – to Michigan State’s season ahead.  The sky is the limit with Spartan quarterback Brian Lewerke – as long as he’s used properly.

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By now, every Michigan State fan knows that his name is pronounced La-wur-key.

The majority of the college football experts and fans out there will pronounce his name incorrectly for most of the season that’s about to start by referring to him as La-wurk.

It’s not going to matter to anyone in Green & White how they pronounce his name if he progresses in the ways everyone thinks he can and should after a prolific sophomore season in 2017.

Take a quick look at some of Lewerke’s bona fides from 2017:

  • Named honorable mention All-Big Ten by both the coaches and the media.
  • Holiday Bowl Offensive MVP.
  • Completed 246-of-417 passes (.590) for 2,793 yards, 20 touchdowns and seven interceptions, while rushing for 559 yards on 124 carries (4.5 ypc).
  • Had 3,352 yards of total offense, which set a Spartan sophomore single-season record (previous: Connor Cook with 2,831 in 2013), and was No. 2 on MSU’s single-season total offense list.
  • Set MSU sophomore records for passing yards (2,793), passing attempts (417) and passing completions (246).
  • Ranked among MSU’s single-season leaders in pass completions (No. 3 with 246), pass attempts (No. 4 with 417), passing yards (No. 7 with 2,793) and touchdowns (No. 8 with 20).
  • Became the first quarterback in school history to throw for more than 2,500 yards (2,793) and rush for more than 500 yards (559) in the same season.

None of that says anything about the intangible leadership qualities that make it a safe bet that Lewerke will be one of the captains of the 2018 Spartans.

And he has cool hair.

But what – aside from any serious injury – might keep him from surpassing most, if not all, of his accomplishments from 2017?

It’s logical to suggest that defenses will be prepared for him and will devise game plans that will be designed to somehow contain him by pressuring him and not letting him escape the pocket, applying blanket coverage to the Spartan wide receivers, and, if he starts to improvise on a broken play, keep him from turning a busted play into a big play.

Every opponent on the schedule will attempt to shut Lewerke down with those – and many more – strategic approaches.

But what about the Michigan State offensive philosophy itself?

Dave Warner has caught a lot of heat over the last few seasons – with most of that being pretty unfair.

Last season, Michigan State averaged 33 pass attempts per game to go along with 42 rushing attempts per game.

If we compare that approach to the 2015 Big Ten Championship, College Football Playoff team led by Connor Cook and his bevy of uber-talented wideouts, Michigan State went with 32 pass attempts per game and 40 rushing attempts per game.

So, things have remained pretty consistent in terms of finding the right balance between the air and ground games.

With Lewerke poised to be a true Heisman candidate and with a flock of studs who should be able to stretch the field and get open, it might be tempting to fire away with Lewerke.

Since Mark Dantonio has always been blunt in stating that the Spartan identity is rooted in pounding the ball, controlling the clock and owning the time of possession battle, it’s unlikely that Michigan State will, all of a sudden, be throwing the ball 55 times a game.

And, if Lewerke were to be attempting that many passes each game, that would be an indication that something – namely the all-important running game – wasn’t working or that Michigan State was getting carried away with Lewerke.

So, will Michigan State be able to maintain the right mix between staying committed to the run AND letting Lewerke have room to make things happen from the pocket without getting away from the Spartans’ balanced approach?

The balance in the offensive attack will only help Lewerke.

At times, he’s most dangerous when he manages to escape that pocket pressure and come up with big plays with his legs or by finding an open man down field.

However, it’s not a coincidence that in two of the Spartans’ three losses in 2017, Lewerke attempted more than 50 passes.

Lewerke attempted 53 passes in the 38-18 loss to Notre Dame.

He attempted 57 passes in the triple overtime loss at Northwestern.

He attempted only 36 passes in the 48-3 thrashing at Ohio State and Michigan State managed only 64 yards on the ground on 34 carries.

Lewerke’s 33 out of 56 passes for 400 yards against Penn State wasn’t anything to complain about, of course.

But, over the course of the full season, Lewerke will be the Lewerke everyone knows he can be when the attack is balanced and not too reliant on his arm.

It’s tempting – let him fire away, let him pile up more 400 yard performances, let him throw deep two or three times every set of downs.

And there will be plenty of times when the fans will wonder why Warner is continuing to feed LJ.

Stay calm, Spartans.

Stick with the disciplined approach that has made the program what it is today.

Stay away from trying to get too cute even though the quarterback is capable of lighting it up.

All that will do is force the Spartans to stray from their commitment to gobbling up the clock and winning the time of possession game and minimize Lewerke’s ability take advantage of what can become a soft secondary late in games.

Yes, let Lewerke connect with Felton Davis, Cody White, Darrell Stewart, and the rest of the guys who will make this season’s aerial attack dangerous.

But stay committed to a balanced attack that can pile up yards, gobble up clock, weaken the defense as the game goes on, and give Lewerke the opportunities to provide the gut punches in key moments with either his arm or his legs.

A nice goal for Lewerke’s own personal game-by-game stat line:

How about he averages about 250 yards a game through the air on about 40 pass attempts, averages between 1 and 2 touchdowns a game, and averages something in the neighborhood of 65 yards rushing per game?

With stats like those and an appearance in the College Football Playoff, Lewerke will have a front row seat at the Heisman Trophy Award ceremony in December.

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