Michigan State looks to shift running game to higher gear
By MATTHEW B. MOWERY
EAST LANSING, Mich. (AP) Michigan State has run the ball effectively through two games. The scary thing for Notre Dame - this week's opponent - is that LJ Scott hasn't even gotten going yet.
Scott accounted for a little more than a third of the Spartans' 260 rushing yards in last year's 36-28 win. If MSU can match that production in Saturday's prime-time game, there's a good chance the Megaphone Trophy stays where it is for the foreseeable future.
MSU's offense has not been perfect but certainly good enough for a 2-0 start.
"I'd say we're a 7.5 out of 10," center Brian Allen said. "But the most encouraging thing is that we haven't played our best football yet, from an offensive line standpoint, from an offense. Playing as well as we have for the first two games, it's just kind of reassuring just that there's so much more left in our offense, left in the O-line unit.
"It's encouraging that we're playing pretty good right now, but there's a lot of room to be better. In past weeks, we could get away with having a bad play here or there, or a (missed assignment) here or there, but we have to be perfect on Saturday, if we want to win."
With a new quarterback and a wideout unit boasting just 14 career catches coming into the season, the anticipation was that the offense would lean heavily on its three-headed running back corps, and on Scott in particular. Scott started the season on the watch list for the Doak Walker award.
The junior was held to 39 yards on 15 carries in the opener against Bowling Green, though, coughing up a key fumble on the doorstep of the end zone. He managed to get untracked against Western Michigan, finishing with 86 yards.
Surprisingly, it's been quarterback Brian Lewerke who has led the team in rushing with 150 yards through two games, including a 61-yard touchdown on a read-option play.
Wideout Darrell Stewart Jr. is the team's third-leading rusher (98 yards) on six carries, while Gerald Homes (82) and Madre London (75) have contributed to a rushing attack averaging 5.4 yards a carry.
The Irish (2-1) are in a similar position with junior quarterback Brandon Wimbush leading a rush offense ranked fifth in the nation, racking up 207 of Notre Dame's 515 yards against Boston College.
That presents a challenge for MSU's traditionally stingy run defense.
"(DeShone) Kiser last year was more of a pro-style quarterback, but he could get out and run when he needed to," linebacker Chris Frey said. "Wimbush has a cannon. The dude can throw the ball far. He might not be as accurate as Kiser, but what he does a little better is he can get out and run. That adds to their game, and allows them to expand on what they do,"
Frey says there are two kinds of quarterbacks for which a team must prepare. There's a "kill guy," who sits in the pocket, allowing the defense to take a shot at him. And there's a "capture guy," a scrambler who poses a danger.
Which is Lewerke? Frey laughed.
"He's a little bit of both," he said.
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Updated September 19, 2017