From the bottom to the top, now can they stay there? The Michigan State Spartans had one of the biggest turnarounds in conference history in 2017 and nearly pulled off an improbable East division title en route to a 10-3 season.
It was a return back to the top after a year of turmoil on and off the field. But, we’re not so interested in the past here. Instead, we want to look forward to 2018 and what the Spartans may have up their sleeves for the season to come.
We started our look forward with an in-depth look at what 2018 holds for the Spartan Dawgs a.k.a. the Michigan State defense. Today we talk about the Spartans offense.
Biggest Question Mark:
Can the offense start fast in Big Ten play?
When I look at the stat sheet from 2017, one thing that jumps up at me is the fact that Michigan State struggled hard in the run game to start Big Ten play. In fact, the Spartans offense had a four-game stretch in conference play where it failed to gain 100 yards on the ground. Those four games came against quality run defenses like Indiana, Northwestern, Penn State and Ohio State. Only once in those four games did the Spartans score more than 24 points either.
This season, MSU gets Indiana, Northwestern, Penn State and Michigan to start Big Ten play. That’s not going to be an easy task for the Spartans offense to say the least. But, this will be a more veteran group in 2018 and the results down the stretch indicate an offense that could be explosive.
If they want to get back to truly competing at the top of the Big Ten (they finished a distant second to OSU on the field this year) East division, getting off to a better offensive start against the better defenses is a good place to start. But, can this team improve enough this offseason to do just that?
Reason to be Optimistic:
Youth growing up
Michigan State was nothing if not young all over the place on offense in 2017, but by the end of the season it was an offense few would’ve wanted to play. There was a healthy Brian Lewerke who showed a dual-threat option Michigan State hasn’t had at quarterback ever under Mark Dantonio. There was an offensive line that found an identity as the season wore on. There was a wide receiver group that stepped up to the plate as the season wore on too.
Lewerke finished 2017 as the only QB in Spartans history to throw for 2,500 yards and run for 500 in a single season. If he continues to progress like he did this past year, a lot of MSU quarterback records are going to fall.
All of those things indicate growth for a young team in 2017 and should be invaluable moments to learn from and build on for 2018 as well. Taking time this offseason to digest the film, continue to work in the weight room and gel as a young offensive team are going to be vital to what is put on the field for the 2018 season.
Perhaps the best bit of news is that the classic formula of MSU offense seems to be back. By that, I mean there’s a quarterback who took the bull by the horns at his position, a quality stable of running backs and an offensive line that can be counted on..at least in terms of four returning starters at season’s end.
Let’s see how this young group responds to increased expectations after an offseason of turmoil galvanized this group last year. My guess is there’s plenty of work that the coaching staff will highlight to keep this group hungry this spring.
Reason to be Pessimistic:
Loss of biggest leader on offensive line
The offensive line was very young last season, but it had a bona fide leader in senior center Brian Allen. You have to wonder what the struggles would’ve looked like without his leadership. As we’ve noted, the struggles in the run game were early and easily identifiable during the 2017 season.
But, experience and the leadership of Allen showed up in a big way as the run game finally got going late in the 2017 season. Losing Allen’s leadership is a big deal because the offensive line is still going to be young in 2018. They’ll have to find that rock, that leader in the trenches and do it quickly.
Michigan State can’t become an offense that solely relies on Lewerke in 2018, and they wasted what could’ve been a huge season on the ground for most of the year in 2018. I’m not sold that there’s the transformational leader on the offensive line just yet. We’ll see how that grows during the offseason, but someone needs to take a big role in East Lansing or it could mean trouble for the run game.
Projected Starting Lineup:
WR: Felton Davis III, Jr.
WR: Darrell Stewart, Jr.
WR: Cody White, So.
LT: Cole Chewins, Jr.
LG: David Beedle, Jr.
C: Matthew Allen, So.
RG: Kevin Jarvis, So.
RT: Luke Campbell, So.
QB: Brian Lewerke, Jr.
RB: L.J. Scott, Sr.
FB: Collin Lucas, Sr.
Returning a quality quarterback ✔️
A dangerous running back ✔️
A veteran offensive line ✔️
What does that all mean? For Michigan State it has always meant a dangerous team for the upcoming season. With the likes of Lewerke, Scott and four starters returning on the offensive line the basics for success for this group are there.
Then you add in a growing and impressive group of young wide receivers led by the likes of Cody White and
Hunter Rison (he’s actually announced a transfer just hours after writing this article) and you can see an offense that won’t be one-dimensional to start the 2018 season. In fact, I’d say this offense reminds me of the ones that got the Spartans to the New Year’s Six and College Football Playoffs a few years ago.
I know that’s lofty to speak of, and I’m not setting those expectations just yet. All I’m saying is that the pieces are in place for an offense that could be explosive in 2018 and that has to have Spartans fans excited about what could be in 2018. It’s certainly a far cry from the outlook heading in to and during most of last offseason.
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