Spartans Still Searching For Identity - They Can Find It

Spartans Still Searching For Identity - They Can Find It

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Spartans Still Searching For Identity - They Can Find It

At 3-1, Michigan State is about to head straight into the most meaningful part of the schedule. The Spartans are still searching for an identity. Can they find it?

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The landmines are coming into view.

Through four games, Michigan State has a 3-1 overall record and a 1-0 mark in the Big Ten – but there are more questions rather than answers at this stage of the season.

  • The running game is far from where it needs to be in the way the sanity of the United States of America is far from being in a place that might be conservatively referred to as “normal.”
  • The mistakes, miscues, penalties, and general sloppiness have all improved a bit but still have a ways to go before Spartan fans can begin to count on a clean game from start to finish.
  • The pass defense is not yet at a championship level of execution in the way my own ability to properly send out a Twitter without the need to delete the Twitter in order to go back and edit something I neglected to properly edit prior to sending out the Twitter is not yet at a level of Twitter execution that the Twitter people would accept as “not ridiculously unacceptable.”
  • The pass rush is evolving but hasn’t yet become a powerful part of the defense’s batch of weapons in the way that my Twittering hasn’t yet become a powerful part of my efforts to become a Social Media personality and authority to be reckoned with.
  • Injuries are mounting, forcing the depth of the roster to be tested in ways that last year’s team didn’t have to deal with.
  • People are beginning to realize just how important a punter really is.

While that initial list of concerns is formidable, there actually are items that can be pointed to without frustration.

For instance –

  • Michigan State is 3-1 and has all of the team’s goals still very much in front of it even if that may sound silly to some folks who think this team is headed for a 6-6 season.
  • The Michigan State rushing defense is a brick wall.  After four games, the Spartans still have the nation’s #1 rushing defense – and with an allowance of 40.3 yards per game, the Spartans are a full 24 yards ahead of the team with the #2 rushing defense in the nation (San Diego State at 64.5).
  • It’s pretty clear that it will be tough for any team to find ways to move the ball on the ground in a meaningful way against these Spartans.
  • While Brian Lewerke has not yet found a rhythm that has led to the type of game-to-game performance Spartan fans have been hoping for, he’s still Brian Lewerke and he’s beginning to see that when he tucks it and runs with it, it opens up the overall ability to have a balanced offense with multiple weapons.
  • Matt Coghlin is perfect – he’s 6 for 6 on field goals and hasn’t faltered on any of the 13 extra point attempts.
  • Coghlin is going to have more than a couple of huge moments in the weeks ahead and he’s about as dependable and confident of a guy as there is on the entire roster.
  • LJ Scott has been able to rest and get healthy in order to allow him to be as close to full strength for the beefiest part of the schedule that is now upon these Spartans.
  • Felton Davis is still Felton Davis and he’ll be a difference-maker and a regular option for Brian Lewerke no matter who is trying to corral him.
  • Mark Dantonio and his staff have worked every season to find the right ways to make sure the Spartans improve week to week, game to game, possession to possession and the track record shows that, eventually, the Spartans find an identity that pave the way to success.

Of course, there are more items that can be added to both of these lists.

But what can this team’s identity become as it prepares for a huge home game against a reeling Northwestern team that surrendered a 17-point lead in what wound up being a 20-17 loss to UMAA?

What are a few key tentpole elements around which this team’s identity can be discovered and strengthened?

KEY TENETS THAT CAN MAKE UP THE MSU IDENTITY 

Brian Lewerke

He’s thrown five interceptions through four games and two of them have come in the endzone – and one of them might be the difference between the 3-1 record and what might have been a 4-0 record.

But this guy is still the guy who was on more than a few dark horse Heisman Trophy candidate lists prior to the season.

Lewerke is still the guy who threw for 2,793 yards, 20 touchdowns, and only 7 interceptions last season.

He’s still the guy who rushed for 559 yards last season.

And if he is able to “simply” tap into the parts of his game that made him such a dangerous dual-threat quarterback last season, the feel and tone of the offense will change immediately and drastically.

He’s been hesitant to tuck and run – and, that’s been partly by design in an effort to be a bit more strategic with the weapons around him.

It’s time for the scheme to allow him to be himself, to allow him to play with the attitude that is a part of his instinctive nature to attack with his legs when the opportunities arise, and to allow his dual-threat abilities to open things up for other parts of the offense.

It’s time for a major part of the team’s identity to become the player with the most potential for carrying the team on his shoulders – Brian Lewerke.

Pass Rush

After recording the most sacks since the 2015 season last week against Indiana by bringing Hoosier quarterback Peyton Ramsey down a total of five times, Michigan State harassed Central Michigan quarterback Tommy Lazzaro for most of the afternoon and sacked him three times.

The rush is starting to show that it has the potential to become a part of the team’s identity.

Through four games, the Spartans now have 11 sacks.

Remember – in 2016, this team had a total of 11 sacks over the course of the full season.

In last season’s 10-3 turnaround, the Spartans recorded 28 sacks.

The 28 sacks in 2017 was “good” for 9th in the Big Ten in the category.

It seems like this team might have a shot at a meaningful improvement on that total from last season.

The pass defense has yet to assert itself and the more the defensive front and edge can hurry, harass, and bring the quarterback down, the better off the pass defense will be.

This can and should become a part of the 2018 Spartan identity.

Can Michigan State get to Northwestern’s Clayton Thorson four or five times this coming Saturday?

In last year’s 39-31 triple overtime loss to Northwestern at Evanston, Northwestern was able to attack the Spartan secondary and Thorson racked up 368 yards to go along with three touchdowns.

The Spartans got to Thorson once.

Four sacks this Saturday?

How about maybe even five sacks this Saturday?

This Saturday, the Spartan defensive front can establish itself as a major part of the 2018 Michigan State identity.

Clean It Up

Michigan State literally opened the game Saturday against Central Michigan with an unforced error with the opening kickoff going out of bounds.

This gave Central Michigan terrific field position on its initial drive and aided the Chips in what wound up being a field goal that gave them the early lead.

That miscue was a microcosm of the way the Spartans have been unable to eliminate a disturbing amount of unforced errors that have contributed to the team’s early season struggles.

It has become clear that this Spartan team isn’t going to overwhelm anyone on the schedule.

The team must play cleanly, efficiently, and with a level of discipline that keeps drives alive, keeps 3rd down situations manageable, and red zone opportunities as strong as possible.

This seems to be a relatively simple thing for this team to do – zero in on a laser focus.

This can be a major part of this team’s search for an identity – playing cleanly, efficiently, and with discipline from start to finish.

NORTHWESTERN PERFECT OPPONENT FOR THIS TEAM RIGHT NOW

We’ll be looking closely at the upcoming game against Northwestern all week.

For now, however, let’s suggest that it’s entirely possible that Northwestern might just be the perfect opponent coming at the perfect time for this Michigan State team to prepare for and face this coming Saturday in East Lansing.

The Wildcats stormed out to a 17-0 lead over UMAA and appeared to be firing on all cylinders.

Northwestern allowed UMAA to score 20 unanswered points and Michigan State might be going up against a team that is reeling a bit.

Northwestern is now 1-3 after entering the season with high expectations.

And in looking back at last season’s triple-overtime thriller that Northwestern won over the Spartans 39-31, Michigan State has the opportunity to assert itself by letting the items we’ve noted above lead the team.

Let Brian Lewerke be Brian Lewerke with his legs and his arm.

Get that pass rush to continue to improve and make its presence and pressure become a major part of the game, from start to finish.

Play a clean, efficient, error-free game from start to finish.

It all sounds sort of simple – but maybe that’s because it might just be sort of simple.

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