Michigan State has a tough decision to make ahead of Saturday's trip to Nebraska. A very serious decision in the eyes of head coach Mark Dantonio.
"We make decisions and as we go forward those decisions become complicated at times, but we do the very best we can and everybody's involved," Michigan State coach Mark Dantonio said Tuesday. "I don't really think it's in this team's best interest to air those decisions prior to football games. I think that's something that needs to be kept in-house for everybody's best benefits."
He's talking about who will play quarterback for the Spartans this week. If it sounds like a serious matter it might be because Michigan State, of late, hasn't really had a good choice to make.
Returning starter Brian Lewerke, an honorable mention All-Big Ten pick last season, was solid over the first month of the season, completing 65 percent of his passes but throwing as many interceptions (5) as touchdowns. The junior injured his shoulder in the Spartans' surprising win at Penn State on Oct. 13.
He hasn't really been the same since. Lewerke made the start against Michigan the following week and went 5-for-25 for 66 yards. Backup Rocky Lombardi made his first start of the season a week later, leading the Spartans to a 23-13 win over Purdue. He played pretty well in that game, throwing for 318 yards (56.5 completion percentage), but it was back to Lewerke the following game, a fairly pedestrian win over Maryland in which Lewerke threw 20 times for 87 yards and an interception. Lombardi threw two passes, neither complete, with one interception in the game.
Then Ohio State put the Spartans and Dantonio in the position they’re in this week as neither quarterback played well. Lewerke got the start and played deep into the second quarter before giving way to Lombardi who took it into the fourth at which point Lewerke returned. That probably tells you how that game went for both guys.
Lewerke was 11-for-28 (39.3 percent) with 128 yards (4.6) and one interception. Lombardi was 7-for-20 (35.0 percent) with 92 yards (4.6) and a fumble lost late in the game that was enough for Dantonio to reinsert Lewerke. No wonder he was somber when asked about his quarterbacks this week.
While Lewerke continues to deal with the shoulder issue, that's not Dantonio's only concern here. From the Lansing State Journal:
". . . I’m concerned about a person’s psyche. I’m concerned about people’s confidence, and I want them to have the best opportunity to be successful,” he said.” I’m concerned about the well-being of a young man, all of our guys, everybody. I’m trying to do the very best I can to make sure that psyche is intact. So when you lift a guy, especially at a leadership position — who is your captain — that’s a big decision, especially when he wants to play.
“Ultimately, you have to do what is best for the team in that situation. But your belief system has to be strong enough that you’re gonna stand the test of time a little bit, that you’re gonna stand the public opinion poll a little bit, and side with him. And that’s what I do.”
Here's Michigan State's collective passing game post-Penn State: 62-for-144 (43.1 percent) for 704 yards (4.89) with three touchdowns and three interceptions. The one decent game of the bunch was the Lombardi-led win over Purdue.
Nebraska has had its struggles defensively, but at least it's doing something well at this late stage in the season.
Michigan State's offense? It's been hit hard by injuries and doesn't appear to have a great option at quarterback right now. It's starting to show.
The Grab Bag
- Good look at what makes Michigan’s defense work.
- How did Northwestern win the West?
- Nebraska DC Erik Chinander talks about defending this Michigan State attack, whoever ends up leading it.
- Greg Smith looks at the Huskers’ recruiting needs as we enter the stretch run before December’s signing period.
Today’s Song of Today
Brandon is the Managing Editor for Hail Varsity and has covered Nebraska athletics for the magazine and web since 2012, Hail Varsity’s first season on the scene. His sports writing has also been featured by Fox Sports, The Guardian and CBS Sports.