Spartans coming off another uneven performance on offense
By NOAH TRISTER
EAST LANSING, Mich. (AP) Michigan State scored 35 points last weekend, which is normally a good sign for an offense.
This time, that figure came with a caveat.
"The way I kind of looked at it is the offense only scored 21," quarterback Brian Lewerke said. "We have to score more than that if we want to win. Our goal is to score 30 every game."
The Spartans beat Indiana 35-21 in their Big Ten opener, but Michigan State scored one of its touchdowns on a fake field goal and another on an interception return. It was a decent win on the road, but an uneven performance for the offense on a night the Spartans turned the ball over four times.
Michigan State scored only 13 points in a loss at Arizona State , then bounced back to beat the Hoosiers. The Spartans were without standout running back LJ Scott against Indiana, and Connor Heyward managed only 23 yards on 12 carries.
Lewerke threw a pair of first-half touchdown passes, but he was also intercepted twice in the game and lost a fumble.
"He tries to carry the load. I think he tries to make a play," coach Mark Dantonio said. "Sometimes he needs to throw it away. Now I'm not happy if he throws it away either, to be perfectly honest. You're trying to make a play out there but sometimes you've got to do that."
Michigan State got a lift in the first half when Shakur Brown returned an interception 69 yards for a touchdown. In the third quarter, the Spartans scored a TD on a fake field goal to take a 28-7 lead.
It's not unusual for a team to dial down the aggressiveness offensively when protecting a comfortable lead, but all three of Lewerke's turnovers came after Michigan State had taken that 21-point advantage.
"We always have a tendency to make games closer than we want them to be," Lewerke said. "Especially when we have a lead. That's something we've got to work on, is closing out games."
The 21st-ranked Spartans face Central Michigan on Saturday.
"A lot of guys on their roster from the state of Michigan, much like ours," Dantonio said. "So you have an instant rivalry-type situation, in terms of guys have played against each other and that type of thing."
One encouraging sign for Michigan State is the performance of some younger players. Jalen Nailor bookended the scoring against Indiana, catching a 16-yard touchdown pass from Lewerke in the first quarter and then running 75 yards for a TD in the fourth after the Hoosiers had pulled within seven.
Nailor, a freshman from Las Vegas, had only two carries and two catches going into the Indiana game.
Sophomore Matt Dotson caught his first career touchdown pass in the second quarter against the Hoosiers, and that's the only reception so far this season by a Michigan State tight end.
"The tight ends are involved in the pass game. The quarterback has to make a decision to go to it when he's the primary guy or secondary guy or third guy, and there's different reads you go through to take things away. Sometimes he's in protection," Dantonio said. "We want to get the ball to all of our guys. I would like for everybody to get catches and touchdowns. You know, that's fun. Don't have as many tough questions in press conferences."
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Updated September 25, 2018