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Know Your Foe Week 7: Michigan State Spartans

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Although plagued with injuries, the Spartans look for a win to keep the Land Grant Trophy

Indiana v Michigan State Photo by Duane Burleson/Getty Images

Michigan State University

  • Location: East Lansing, Michigan
  • Enrollment: 50,019 (undergraduates and post graduates)

Michigan State Spartans Football Facts

  • Home Stadium: Spartan Stadium (Capacity 75,005)
  • Head Coach: Mark Dantonio, 12th season, 103-47 (.687)
  • Conference: Big Ten (East Division)
  • Overall Bowl Record: 12-15 (.444)
  • Conference Titles: 11 (9 Big Ten, 2 MIAA)
  • Claimed National Titles: 6

Series History

  • First Game: November 13, 1914 (Michigan State won, 6-3)
  • Last Game: November 4, 2017 (Michigan State won, 27-24)
  • Overall: Michigan State leads, 16-15
  • Current Streak: Michigan State, 1

Last Season (10-3 overall, 7-2 in the Big Ten)

Before the season started, the Spartans dismissed four players, Donnie Corley, Josh King, Demetric Vance and Auston Robertson, charged with sexual misconduct.

Michigan State started the 2017 season with wins over Bowling Green and Western Michigan, losing to Notre Dame in week 3. The Spartans went on to win against Iowa, No. 7 Michigan, Minnesota and Indiana before losing to Northwestern. In November, the Spartans defeated then No.7 Penn State, lost to then No.11 Ohio State, but went on to win their last two regular season games against Maryland and Rutgers. The then-ranked No. 18 Spartans earned an invitation to the Holiday Bowl, easily defeating No. 21 Washington State 42-17, and ending their season No. 15 in the AP Poll.

Recruiting and Offseason

The Michigan State Spartans’ 2018 class ranks as the nation’s 31st recruiting class (sixth in the Big Ten) as compared to Penn State’s 2018 class, ranked at sixth in the nation and second in the Big Ten (per 247 Sports).

Last Week

Despite having the nation’s top-ranked run defense, the No. 20 Michigan State Spartans lost to the Northwestern Wildcats 29-19. Michigan State’s defense held Northwestern to 8 yards on the ground, but Northwestern quarterback Clayton Thorson threw for 373 yards and three touchdowns to win the game. The Spartans ran for 96 yards on 24 attempts, and quarterback Brian Lewerke finished 31 of 51 for 329 yards with a touchdown and an interception.

Offense

The Spartans are deep in the middle of offensive woes, with injuries taking out four returning offensive line starters (Cole Chewins, left tackle, David Beedle, left guard, Kevin Jarvis, right guard and Luke Campbell, right tackle). The starting tackles are injured but rotating in, but a true sophomore and redshirt junior are backing them up. The backup guards are redshirt freshmen.

That makes it tough for the Spartan runningbacks to move the ball. Michigan State’s rush offense is ranked at 109th in the nation, and even worse, senior runningback LJ Scott has been out for several games and is questionable this week. For the Spartans, the rushing leaders this season are sophomore Connor Heyward, with 42 attempts for 147 yards and three touchdowns, and freshman La’Darius Jefferson with 32 attempts for 125 yards and one score.

In wide receiver unit, receivers are sparse, too. Darrell Stewart Jr. played inconsistently with an injury last week, and last year’s All-Big Ten Freshman Cody White is out with a hand injury (he racked up 300 yards and two touchdowns on 20 receptions before he got hurt). That leaves Felton Davis III to carry a lot of the load, and he’s had 23 catches for 374 yards and two touchdowns this season. Heyward has also made his share of catches to lighten the load.

What’s going well for the Michigan State offense? Junior quarterback Brian Lewerke is putting in work, ranked second in the Big Ten in passing yardage with 265.22 yards per game. The Spartans are 38th in the nation in passing offense with Lewerke completing 64.2 percent of his passes with 1,328 passing yards, six touchdowns and six interceptions.

Defense

Michigan State’s run defense is top in the nation (allowing just 33.8 yards per game this year), and their defense is fourth in the conference and 28th in FBS. But the Spartan pass defense is close to the bottom of FBS (122nd) and they’re giving up 305.2 yards per game in the air, plus injuries made their way to several defensive units, too.

Although starting cornerback Josiah Scott (freshman All-American last year) is out along with cornerback Josh Butler who sat last week, the Spartan secondary is deep.

Returning junior cornerback Justin Layne (35 tackles this season) is starting with sophomore Tre Person backing up for Butler. Spartan safeties are full of talent with redshirt junior David Dowell, a first-team All-Big Ten pick by the media last year who had five interceptions (11th in the nation and 2nd in the Big Ten) and senior Khari Willis who had 71 tackles last season.

Plus the linebacker unit returns senior Andrew Dowell (third on the team with 34 tackles) and junior Joe Bachie (tackle leader with 39, 2.5 TFLs, 1 sack, 1 interception) with junior Tyriq Thompson starting this year.

Also out are defensive end Dillon Alexander and defensive tackle Mufi Hill-Hunt (injured last season). The most experienced on the line are redshirt juniors Kenny Willekes (defensive end with 30 tackles, 8 TFLs and 4 sacks) and nose tackle Raequan Williams. Joining them are Polish brothers Mike Panasiuk (junior defensive tackle) and Jacub Panasiuk (sophomore defensive end), who speak Polish on the line to confuse their opponents. Dobra robota!

Special Teams

Injuries hit the Spartans’ special teams, too with punter Jake Hartbarger out for six to eight weeks. Last week, the redshirt freshman backup quarterback Rocky Lombardi was listed as the first-string punter. Tyler Hunt has also kicked 15 punts with a 38.9 average so far this season.

Kicker Matt Coughlin is perfect at 100% (8/8) on field goals and extra points (14/14) this year.

Leading the Spartans in kick returns is Connor Heyward with 6 returns for 128 yards (21.3 average).

Blog

Read more about Michigan State sports at their SB Nation blog The Only Colors.