Spartans Barrel On - Big Opportunities Ahead

Spartans Barrel On - Big Opportunities Ahead

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Spartans Barrel On - Big Opportunities Ahead

Michigan State dominated Maryland in every way on Saturday at College Park en route to a 24-3 victory over the Terps. The Spartans have fought their way to a 6-3, 4-2 record and have a huge opportunity straight ahead with Ohio State coming to East Lansing next.

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Predictably – and understandably – there is plenty of handwringing over the quarterback situation as Brian Lewerke and Rocky Lombardi have presented Mark Dantonio with what some see as a challenge.

However, the temptation to focus on the quarterback situation leads to the neglecting of the most important “situation” for Dantonio’s Spartans:

The Michigan State defense has improved each week, has continued to show why it’s the #1 defense in the nation against the run, and has allowed the offense to become appropriately opportunistic no matter who is playing quarterback.

On Saturday at turbulent College Park where the entire University of Maryland community has been embroiled in a sad and dysfunctional controversy that is far from over, Michigan State dominated the reeling Terps all afternoon and did so behind a smothering defense that is only getting better – and the Spartans’ 24-3 victory was more impressive than it may look like on a piece of paper.

STIFLING DEFENSE + ASSERTIVE OFFENSE = DOMINANT VICTORY

Maryland entered the game averaging 246 yards on the ground over the Terps’ first eight games.

Michigan State’s suffocating defense held the Terps to 26 yards on the ground.

Last week against Illinois, Maryland’s redshirt freshman quarterback Kasim Hill threw for 265 yards and 3 touchdowns as the Terps piled up 712 yards of total offense against the Illini.

Understanding that those numbers last week came against the Illini, it’s still revealing when seeing that Michigan State held the Terps to 74 yards through the air and limited Maryland to a total of 100 yards of total offense.

Mark Dantonio could bring Damon Dowdell back and have him lead the Spartan offense if this Michigan State defense continues to shut teams down like it has.

Maryland almost managed a touchdown on an interception that was on its way to being returned for six but the Spartans – particularly Darrell Stewart – turned into stifling defenders by punching the ball loose and recovering it in the endzone for a touchback.

That really was the closest Maryland came to doing anything at all with the ball all afternoon.

Of course the Maryland football program is dealing with the realities of everything that surrounds it right now – but, the way Michigan State opened up the game with a powerfully assertive drive that ended with Connor Heyward’s 18-yard touchdown run and followed that up with another nice drive that ended with Matt Coghlin converting his 33-yard field goal attempt, the possibility of an emotionally-charged victory for Maryland was thwarted right away.

This was about as workmanlike of a victory as anyone in Green & White could have hoped for.

Michigan State sacked Hill five times – four different Spartans were in on the put-downs.

When Hill wasn’t being sacked, he was being pressured.

Maryland’s receivers caught a total of 8 passes over the course of the four quarters and the longest reception went for 21 yards.

Michigan State’s defense started each half with three straight three-and-outs, never letting Maryland feel as though it could breathe, let alone move the ball, let alone have a shot at beating the Spartans.

GROUND GAME PRODUCES

Connor Heyward was a big part of the best day of the season for the much-maligned Michigan State ground game.

Heyward finished his career day with 157 on 15 carries and 2 touchdowns, the second score coming on an 80-yard sprint late in the game and if anyone dares to suggest that his 80-yard jaunt “skews” anything related to the team’s 269-yard total on the ground, that person needs to stand in the corner and stick his/her nose up against the knot on the wall for an hour while everyone else consumes beverages.

The offensive line was strong, fast, and crisp all afternoon, starting with that opening drive.

That opening drive was a 12-play, 79-yard march and 10 of the 12 plays were runs that totaled 55 yards, including Heyward’s 18-yard score.

LEWERKE AND ROCKY

Brian Lewerke and Rocky Lombardi both played after Dantonio sent Lewerke out there to start the game.

A word about Dantonio’s decision to go with Lewerke:

It was the right decision.

Despite your temptation to believe that I’m a mind reader, I am not one.

However, in an attempt to read Dantonio’s mind with regard to his decision to start Lewerke, Dantonio’s mind said things along these lines to his own self:

Brian Lewerke has demonstrated – over a substantial amount of playing time – that he is capable of leading with authority and winning for Michigan State.

(Despite the best efforts of The Circus to render the play depicted in the photo directly above discounted, those efforts have been unsuccessful and Lewerke’s plowing, tougher-than-anyone-around-him touchdown run last season in Ann Arbor still counts)

Lewerke set records for a Spartan sophomore quarterback a season ago en route to leading to the Spartans to a 10-3 record with major victories over rivals and non-rivals alike.

Lewerke has heard an awful lot about his struggles this season and it’s probable that nobody is more disappointed with the way this season has gone for him than Lewerke himself.

Lewerke remains poised to be a championship quarterback for this program and it’s important that he understands that everyone within this program understands that this is, in fact, the case.

Rocky Lombardi has a very bright future for the program but there is plenty of time for Lombardi to develop, gain more experience when opportunities present themselves, and Rocky knows all of this.

As a practical matter, Dantonio’s decision to start Lewerke gave Michigan State the best chance to effectively, productively, and confidently establish control in what had the potential to be a challenging ball game.

From an intangible standpoint, the message sent to Lewerke was even more important than the practicality of him being the starter since it reassured the junior that he remains the team’s starting quarterback, the team’s respected captain, and the team’s best shot at short- and long-term success.

Let’s repeat something –

Rocky Lombardi has an extremely bright future and Michigan State is in great shape at the quarterback position as a result of Lombardi’s potential.

Lombardi is a redshirt freshman and the experience he’s gained this year is going to pay dividends in major ways down the road.

Dantonio is right when he says it’s a “good problem” to have.

Anyone that’s pouring cold water on this situation by trying to passively aggressively argue that this situation is a real problem for Michigan State is just looking to be provocative.

For now, a final word on this situation –

Michigan State has won two straight games now that most people assumed would be losses two weeks ago.

Upon inspection, the Spartans have won both of these games impressively and rather dominantly.

Two different quarterbacks have played and led the team effectively and successfully.

What about any of that is “problematic?”

The answer to that rhetorical question is, of course, “Nothing at all.”

WHAT ARE THE SPARTANS PLAYING FOR? A WHOLE HELL OF A LOT

And here we are, heading into the second game of November with Michigan State having won two straight, having picked themselves up off of the mat, having firmly demonstrated that the team has a hell of a lot left to do in this season, and has every intention of making this yet another big season for Mark Dantonio’s program.

We’ll be examining this a whole lot more – but, for right now, we’ll say this:

At 6-3, 4-2, Michigan State has a realistic shot at finishing this season 10-3.

Again.

Teams that are not Alabama can’t win their conference championship every single season.

Teams can’t beat their rivals every single season.

Sometimes the measure of a big time, nationally respected, elite program isn’t if it makes the College Football Playoff for the second time in four seasons.

Sometimes the measure of a big time, nationally respected, elite program is if it’s able to fight through challenges and be in the hunt for double-digit wins yet again (like, for the seventh time in the last nine seasons).

Winning championships isn’t something that the Michigan State program is unaccustomed to these days.

I’ve noticed some folks in a nearby neighborhood saying things like, “It feels like the old days again.”

That’s swell for those folks.

All of pine for the magic of days of yore.

Sometimes we’re able to find a place where a candy bar can be bought for fifty cents.

It’s neat and fun and temporarily comforting when we purchase that candy bar, enjoy the candy bar, and think about the pleasures of what life was like back in the days of Ronald Reagan.

(We love ya, Gipper.)

In this neighborhood, championships have been won, rivals have been dominated, major bowl games have been won, gigantic victories over Top 10 teams have occurred regularly without any manufactured t-shirts needed to motivate the mission, the College Football Playoff has been achieved, and the program has marched on with pride and purpose no matter what may or may not be happening under circus tents elsewhere.

Ohio State comes to East Lansing this Saturday.

As we’ve noted here, Michigan State is very much back into Mission Mode.

With this defense’s power, muscle, speed, determination, scheme, monsters, aggression, and constant search for improvement and continued domination, does anyone in Green & White think this upcoming game against Ohio State is a game that is, all of a sudden, going to overwhelm Joe Bachie, Khari Willis, the Panasiuk Machine, Raequan Williams, Josiah Scott, Tyriq Thompson, Justin Layne, Antjuan Simmons, Kenny Willekes, the Dowell Brothers, Brandon Randle-Bouyer, and the rest of the Spartans?

Whether Brian Lewerke or Rocky Lombardi is under center, does anyone in Green & White think that a surging offense with guys like Connor Heyward, Darrell Stewart, rejuvenated Cody White, Jalen Nailor, Matt Dotson, Max Rosenthal, La’Darius Jefferson, and any of the guys who will be manning the offensive line aren’t certain that the Buckeyes can be beaten?

Sure, Michigan State was knocked down a few weeks ago by The Circus.

But for anyone paying any attention, the way this team has responded over the last two ball games shows what this team and this program is made of.

And Ohio State is a mess that’s led by a guy who sure has had a lot of “things” he’s had to “deal with” for the last however many months.

This upcoming ball game at Spartan Stadium presents Michigan State with a chance to do a whole lot more than get to 7-3, 5-2.

A victory over Ohio State this coming Saturday would assure everyone what most of us are already well aware of – Michigan State Football is very much alive and well, thank you very much.

I think that Mark Dantonio is already reminding his team about how things went last season against the Buckeyes – not that they need any reminders.

And if I were a member of The Circus act, I’d be careful about thinking that world domination is in the process of being achieved.

Someone once said something that applies right now – it won’t ever get moldy and it will apply, I think, once this season ends (possibly with the Spartans having finished with a 10-3 record):

It’s not over.

It will never be over.

It’s just starting…..

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