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2019 Opponent Snapshot: Michigan State Spartans

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Can James Franklin finally get a win in East Lansing this fall?

Michigan State v Nebraska Photo by Steven Branscombe/Getty Images

Quick 2018 Recap: The 2018 season was a lackluster one for the Michigan State Spartans. After winning at least 10 games in six of the previous eight seasons, the Spartans muddled their way to a 7-6 campaign. Their season was capped off by a loss to Oregon in the Redbox Bowl.

Last season, Sparty had an excellent defense but an abysmal offense. They held 10 of 13 opponents to 21 points or less, but they also scored 21 points or less in 8 of 13 games. They would finish the season ranked 2nd nationally in S&P+ defensive ratings, offensively, however, they were 112th.

Despite their struggles, the Spartans still found a way to walk out of Beaver Stadium with a 21-17 victory last fall. This was the second consecutive close loss for James Franklin and company against the Spartans, which means the Nittany Lions will be looking for revenge come October.

Offensive Player to Watch: QB Brian Lewerke - After a breakout 2017 season Lewerke appeared to be on his way to becoming one of the premiere quarterbacks in the FBS. After posting a 127.7 QB rating, 59% completion percentage, a 20:7 touchdown-to-interception ratio, and 559 rushing yards in 2019, Lewerke had a miserable 2018 campaign.

Lewerke’s QB rating fell to 106.1, he completed just 54.3% of his passes, threw more interceptions (11) than touchdowns (8), and rushed for just 184 yards. After struggling and battling a shoulder injury, he would be benched for all-name team candidate Rocky Lombardi.

Lewerke capped off his offseason by going 14/20 with 181 yards and a pair of scores in the Michigan State spring game. It is not an exaggeration to say Lewerke will be the most important Spartan in 2019. If he plays the way he did in 2017, they could make some noise in the Big Ten East. If not, it could be another long year in East Lansing.

Defensive Player to Watch: LB Joe Bachie - Senior Joe Bachie has seemingly been in college for about 10 years. Bachie has started all 13 games for the Spartans each of the last two seasons. In these two seasons he has racked up 202 tackles, 16.5 TFLs, 3.5 sacks, 4 interceptions, and 4 forced fumbles.

In his career, Bachie has been a thorn in Penn State’s side. In 2017, he recorded a key INT in the Spartan victory. Last season, he led a Spartan defense that gave Trace McSorley fits all afternoon long. Hopefully, this will not continue in 2019.

Bachie will be decorated as one of the best linebackers in the Big Ten, and rightfully so. Michigan State should again have a great defense this fall, and Bachie is a big reason why.

Penn State Wins If: The Nittany Lion finally play like the more talented team and nothing weird happens. Each of the last two seasons Penn State has been a better, more talented team than Michigan State. However, each of these seasons the Nittany Lions suffered agonizing losses in the closing seconds.

In 2017 Sparty hit a game winning field goal as the clock expired. Last season, Felton Davis finished off a career of tormenting Penn State fans by hauling in a game winning touchdown with :19 seconds remaining in the game.

Each of these losses were also highlighted by self-inflicted wounds by the Nittany Lions, and, well, flat out weirdness. Trace McSorley had an uncharacteristic turnover in each game, Marcus Allen was called for a boneheaded roughing the passer penalty in 2017 that put MSU into field goal range instead of the game going to overtime, and there was that long, long weather delay.

Last season, CJ Thorpe was called for a dead ball penalty after the Nittany Lion defense stuffed the Spartans on a 4th and goal from the 1 yard line. Also, Michigan State fumbled the ball four times, and, somehow, Penn State did not recover any of them.

Please, football gods, no weirdness come October.

Michigan State Wins If: They are able to settle in and play Mark Dantonio football. College football fans have seen it time and time again in recent years. Michigan State plays a team that is more talented then them, but turn the game into a rock fight and walk away the winners.

When the Spartans are able to make this happen, they can be very difficult to beat. Michigan State is a program built on strong special teams, stifling defense, and running the football. These are the types of teams that are difficult to beat in rock fights.

Each of the last two seasons the Spartans were able to settle into their game against the Nittany Lions and walked away with a pair of close victories. In 2016, they did not and Penn State blew their doors off in a 45-12 victory.

Major Changes for 2019: As we’ve discussed, the Michigan State offense was bad in 2018. This led to Dantonio looking to make changes. However, the changes he made were, umm, interesting.

Instead of making any real changes to his offensive coaching staff, Dantonio just reshuffled the deck. Quarterback coach Brad Salem was moved to offensive coordinator. Former offensive coordinator Dave Warner, who is a very disliked man in East Lansing, was moved to quarterbacks coach. It goes without saying that Sparty fans were not fans of this move, or, as they would define it, lack of a move.