With identical 5-1 conference records, the team that emerges from the Ohio State/Michigan State match-up Saturday will maintain control of their Big Ten destiny. The other will be looking at an incomplete puzzle, hoping the right pieces are still out there.
The Spartans conference loss came in triple overtime at Northwestern. While that was a disappointing result for coach Mark Dantonio’s team, the upside was that it may have marked the arrival of 6’3″, 212-pound quarterback Brian Lewerke.
Suddenly, a signal caller who had averaged 194.6 yards passing per game up to that point uncorked a 445-yard performance. (Of those, 396 yards came in regulation.) As if to prove that wasn’t a fluke, he threw for 400 more yards the next week against Penn State.
Overall this season, he has 16 touchdowns and five interceptions. Part of the reason for that is the number of targets he has available to him. Michigan State averages eight different players catching a pass per game.
For those who saw what Noah Fant did to the Buckeyes last week, and might wonder if the Spartans have a tight end capable of the same? Matt Sokol doesn’t have Fant’s numbers, but has proven capable with 16 receptions and a touchdown. At 6’6″ he’s also an inch taller than Fant.
Michigan State’s leading receiver is Felton Davis III, who paces the team with 45 catches, 586 yards, and eight touchdowns.
They will pass to running back LJ Scott as well. He has 15 catches, and that helps keep him involved, even when the Spartans aren’t keeping it on the ground. (Something they are doing a little less of this year than they traditionally have.) Scott actually has fewer than 50 rushing yards in half of the eight games he’s played in this year.
Lewerke himself can use his feet. He averages 4.5 yards when he takes off. He has runs this year of 61 and 52 yards, and he has around 9 carries a game.
Where the Spartans are most impressive, though, is on defense, specifically run defense. They are ranked 3rd nationally in that category, and give up only 87 yards a game.
Ohio native Joe Bachie will be highly motivated as he really wanted to end up playing for Ohio State rather than lining up against them. This season, the middle linebacker has 77 tackles, 7.5 tackles for loss, 2 forced fumbles, and 2 interceptions.
Defensive end Kenny Willekes has 10.5 tackles for loss, five sacks.
Both Willekes and Bachie are sophomores. In fact, five Spartans starters on defense are sophomores, and a full 12 of the players listed as potential starters on either side of the ball this week are underclassmen.
Ohio State plays a young and hungry Spartans team at noon Saturday on 97.1 The Fan.