Michigan State spring game: Three takeaways for Spartans heading into 2018

EAST LANSING, Mich. –  Michigan State played its Green-White Spring Game on Saturday at Spartan Stadium in chilly 30-degree temperatures.

That offered the first look at a program that finished 10-3 in 2017. The Spartans played an offense vs. defense scrimmage for the second straight season, and that showed a talented team in East Lansing heading into Mark Dantonio’s 12th year as head coach. The White team beat Green 32-30. 

Here are three takeaways from Saturday’s spring game: 

Brian Lewerke in charge 

Michigan State’s offense will flow through the second-year starter, who finished with 2,793 passing yards, 20 TDs and seven interceptions while rushing for 559 yards in 2017. The Spartans entered the spring game with questions at quarterback each of the last two seasons, and Lewerke should thrive in his second year as the starter. 

On Saturday, the receivers struggled with drops on the first few possessions. On a third-and-6 on Michigan State’s second possession, Lewerke roped a pass through Josh Butler’s coverage to Cody White on a hitch route for a first-down conversion. 

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Lewerke also led a two-minute drill for a TD with a fade to Darrell Stewart Jr. for 30-yard TD pass on a fade shortly before halftime. Lewerke did not play in the second half, but a second-year in the system should lead to more confidence in the play-calling in 2018. 

Lewerke will be one of the best quarterbacks in the Big Ten if the receivers continue to improve, and it’s worth knowing receiver Felton Davis III did not play Saturday. 

Get to know Connor Heyward 

Michigan State’s leading rusher LJ Scott returns, and he has a firm grasp on the starting job. Heyward, however, ran hard with the second team and in opportunities with the first team. 

He picked up first downs on third-and-short situations with both units and broke through for a six-yard touchdown in the second quarter. 

Heyward is the son of the late Craig “Ironhead” Heyward and the brother of Steelers star Cam Heyward. The true sophomore showed why he could be line for more carries in 2018 in a backup role behind Scott, especially in short-yardage situations. 

Heyward even threw a two-point conversion pass to backup quarterback Rocky Lombardi on a trick play in the fourth quarter. 

Defense remains sound 

The Spartans played an offense vs. defense scrimmage on Saturday, and the defense held the offense scoreless in the first quarter. The format of the scrimmage allowed three points for the defense every five minutes they held the offense scoreless and three more points per turnover.

The defense thrived in this format in the second half. Jacub Panasiuk recovered a fumble in the third quarter, and Josiah Scott added an interception before backups played out a back-and-forth fourth quarter. 

The beat appears to go on with new defensive coordinator Mike Tressel, who takes over for Barnett. Michigan State ranked 19th in the FBS by allowing 20 points per game last season.That number could go down in 2018. 

The unit remains aggressive and has experience on the front seven. There is depth and strength on the defensive line, and Michigan State is at its best when the defense has that. Kenny Willekes figures to lead that presence up front.

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