Lewerke And The Ground Game - Let The Process Play Out

Lewerke And The Ground Game - Let The Process Play Out

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Lewerke And The Ground Game - Let The Process Play Out

After a 2-1 start to the season, Michigan State has obvious areas where the Spartans need to find answers to lingering questions. The ground game and some of the elements of Brian Lewerke’s game seem to be hot topics. Michigan State’s process might lead to the answers.

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Nick Saban is famous for a lot of reasons – but one of the things he’s famous for is talking about “the process.”

Saban’s Alabama juggernaut follows a process and the program follows that process religiously.

We won’t ever argue that Mark Dantonio’s program is comparable to Alabama.

However, if you’ve followed Michigan State football over the last decade, you have to acknowledge that every season that ends up being a “successful” one includes development over the course of the full season and the whole thing could be viewed as a “process.”

We’ve said it before and we’ll say it again – the 2013 Big Ten Champion Spartans, winners of the the Rose Bowl, were a team without a quarterback several games into the season and experts far and wide were saying the team didn’t have the weapons, didn’t have the speed, didn’t have the beef up front on both sides of the ball, and wasn’t a real contender.

That 2013 team sent eight players to the NFL immediately after the 2013 season concluded with Michigan State finishing as the #3 team in the nation.

Le’Veon Bell was gone after the 2012 season that ended with a 7-6 record.

Andrew Maxwell was the Spartans’ returning leader in passing yards and touchdowns.

Bennie Folwer was the team’s leading receiver in terms of receiving yards and touchdowns.

By the time Michigan State was in the Rose Bowl, Connor Cook was well on his way to becoming the program’s all-time winningest quarterback, Jeremy Langford had developed into a star who would end up in the NFL, and Tony Lippett was on his way to becoming the Big Ten’s top wide receiver prior to becoming a cornerback in the NFL.

Michigan State’s coaching staff followed a process all through that 2013 season and it led to one of the most memorable seasons in program history.

With the exception of the 3-9 season in 2016, each season since 2013 has included a season-long process that has led to 13, 11, 12, and 10 wins.

Experts, talkers, and fans are concerned about all kinds of things related to these 2018 Spartans – and there are legitimate concerns throughout the team.

But before we all throw in the towel, we should look at the track record and think about the possibility that these guys know how to address the issues since that’s exactly what they’ve been doing ever since they got here in 2007.

THE GROUND GAME

The offensive line’s struggles are the easiest problem to point to – and everyone is, indeed, pointing at the offensive line.

The offensive line’s problems lead to the obvious concerns related to the team’s inability to truly pound the ball on the ground.

LJ Scott’s continuing injury problems have become a point of frustration – and it’s probably fair to assume that the coaching staff is frustrated with LJ’s overall situation at this point.

Having said that about the LJ situation – consider the following possible scenario:

LJ Scott wasn’t at 100% heading into Saturday night’s game at Indiana due to the ankle injury that he sustained against Arizona State.

With another week of rest, it’s possible that LJ might be back at 100% – or close to it – and Mark Dantonio might have said to himself and his staff, “We can get the job done against Indiana without LJ and we’ll do it with all of the guys that are ready to contribute.  We might not run for the 300 yards that everyone’s clamoring for – but we’ll get the job done on the ground and be able to beat Indiana while getting LJ back to full strength….”

Despite a La’Darious Jefferson fumble, mission accomplished there even if experts continue to point to the 131-yard rushing output.

We know full well that LJ alone isn’t going to solve the broader issues related to being able to run the ball the way this team wants and needs to.

If LJ is still pestered by the ankle, I’d be all for resting him again this Saturday against Central Michigan.

Get LJ Scott back to full strength.

The running back committee can get the job done again against Central Michigan and it’s a great opportunity to continue to develop Connor Heyward, La’Darious Jefferson, Weston Bridges, and even Jalen Nailor.

What’s more important – having LJ back at 85% for a game against Central Michigan and running the risk of tweaking his ankle even more OR resting LJ some more so that he’s at full strength for the stretch that will determine the direction of this season when Michigan State faces Northwestern, Penn State, and UMAA?

As for the offensive line –

The injuries are mounting.

Cole Chewins, Luke Campbell, and David Beedle all are nursing injuries that appear to be nagging injuries rather than potentially season-threatening.

The depth, versatility, and talent all across the offensive line is just too good and substantial for this line to not be able to get the job done.

As we’ve said, nobody is saying the line needs to pave the way for this offense to have the nation’s #1 rushing attack.

But climbing out of the cellar as the Big Ten’s last place rushing attack seems like a realistic expectation that can be achieved over the course of the full season as the unit and the team continues to follow the process that goes along with the ebbs and flows of the season.

LEWERKE

With regard to the concerns that the experts, talkers, and fans might have with Brian Lewerke –

I read the following in a report in The Detroit News this morning:

“Entering Saturday’s game at Indiana, Lewerke was completing nearly 70 percent of his passes. However, he was often missing open targets and by the time the win over Indiana was complete, he had two more interceptions for a total of four this season.”

Lewerke’s interceptions are a concern and he’s made two or three decisions so far this season that everyone would like to think would he wouldn’t make at this point in his junior season.

However – the reference to Lewerke’s close-to-70% completion rate and the qualification that he’s “often missing open targets” –

When a quarterback completes 70% of his passes, there is very little to wring our hands over.

Lewerke had two passes Saturday night that stick out as ones where he missed open targets.

One of them came when he had Matt Dotson open in the endzone late in the first half and overthrew him.

On the very next play, Lewerke escaped pressure, rolled out a bit, and then made an NFL-type of pass to Dotson in the back of the endzone for the touchdown to extend Michigan State’s lead to 21-7.

If Lewerke is going to “miss open targets” only to follow up the misses with passes like the one he converted for a touchdown with Dotson and complete 70% of his passes, I’ll take him missing an open target now and then.

The point?

Brian Lewerke is going to make the plays that are necessary for Michigan State to score when necessary and to win ball games.

Lewerke has already hiked up his pants and led the Spartans to each of its two victories in the ways he calmly and cooly led Michigan State to the late game-winning touchdown against Utah State and in the way he engineered that perfect two-minute drill at the end of the first half against Indiana.

The interceptions – and, more specifically, the decisions that lead to the interceptions – are certainly a “concern.”

But if you have problems with Brian Lewerke, I don’t think I can help you.

Lewerke is Michigan State’s guy and he’s only going to improve.

I’ll take the guy that made this play every day of the week –

Look for him to eliminate the miscues and continue to grow into the quarterback that everyone believes he can be.

LET THE PROCESS PLAY OUT

Let’s let the process play out before we lament the areas where Michigan State hasn’t performed in the ways everyone wants them to up to this point.

And let’s think back to the 2010, 2013, and 2015 seasons specifically – each one of these seasons resulted in a Big Ten Championship.

Where were the Spartans three games into those seasons?

What were the experts saying as Michigan State was working to find its rhythm and identity at this point in those seasons?

How did those seasons turn out?

Does that mean this season is going to end with a Big Ten Championship?

Of course not.

But the track record has been pretty good through the last ten years.

Let’s see how things progress over the next couple of weeks.

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