Written by Sammy Jacobs (@Hoosier_Huddle)
The Hoosiers travel north in week five as they renew the Old Brass Spittoon rivalry with the Michigan State Spartans. The Hoosiers won for the first time in a decade in this series in 2016. However, Michigan State has won the last two, but each contest has been fairly close and this could be turning into an actual rivalry (before an angry mob of Spartan fans chase me down, I mean that playing highly competitive games annually has started to draw more fan interest and attention from the media than it had over the past 15 years). The Spartans are coming off a season where an elite defense carried them to seven wins and a bad offense led to a staff reshuffling. Which Michigan State team shows up in 2019 is anyone’s guess, but the Spartans have the talent to possibly have a say on the East Division race.
Week Five: Michigan State Spartans
Date & Time: Saturday, September 28th, 2019, Time: 3:30 or 4pm
Venue: Spartan Stadium, East Lansing, Michigan
Spartans at a Glance
Head Coach: Mark Dantonio
Entering his 13th year as Michigan State’s Head Coach
Overall Record: 100-124 (16 seasons)
At Michigan State: 107-51 (66-35)
Last Season: 7-6 (5-4) Lost Redbox Bowl vs. Oregon 7-6
Spartan Returning Leaders
Passing: Brain Lewerke (2018: 184-339, 54.3 Comp %, 2,040 Passing Yards, 8 TD, 11 INTs)
Rushing: Connor Heyward (2018: 118 attempts, 529 yards, 4.5 avg, 5 TDs)
Receiving: Cody White (2018: 42 receptions, 555 yards, 2 TDs)
Tackles: Joe Bachie (2018: 103 TKLs, 7.5 TFL, 1 Sack, 1 INT, 6 Passes Defensed)
Spartans Preseason Predictions
Athlon: 4th in the Big Ten East
Lindy’s: 3rd in the Big Ten East
Phil Steele: T-3rd in the Big Ten East
Street & Smith’s: 3rd in the Big Ten East
S&P+: 23rd Nationally
Impact Newcomers for the Spartans
1. Devonte Dobbs, OL- Dobbs is a four-star prospect and was listed at the top guard prospect in the country in the 2019 recruiting cycle. According to 247 Sports he did not allow a sack during his senior season and pancake blocked an opponent 70 times. At 6’4” and 304 pounds, he has the size to be in the mix for a team that ranked 58th nationally in sacks allowed with 26.
2. Anthony Williams, RB- Williams was not a blue-chip recruit out of Chicago, as he was rated a three-star prospect, but he could have the goods to break into a running back room that lacks depth behind Connor Heyward. He comes in at 6’ and 190 pounds. With summer workouts going, one would think that he could start the season closer to 200, which would give him a little more bulk to take on Big Ten defenders.
3. Julian Barnett, CB- A top-100 player nationally, Barnett will have the chance to crack the rotation in the secondary. Even though this Spartan defense is loaded, a combination of talent and opportunity should allow for the 6’2” corner to have a chance.
Michigan State’s offense was awful last season and that’s not being over the top dramatic. The Spartans finished 126th out of 130 FBS teams in scoring offense as they put up just 17.7 points per game and 117th in total offense. If team did not have an elite defense, it would have been really ugly.
Most of those struggles started with an offensive line that did not perform well. The offensive line gave up 26 sacks and finished second to last in the conference in rushing and then came inconsistent quarterback play that saw Brian Lewerke get beat up.
Lewerke is back and his shoulder is healthy. After a career year in 2017 set up high expectations for 2018, Lewerke threw for 2,040 yards for just eight touchdowns and 11 interceptions and saw his rushing yardage drop from 559 yards to just 184. When healthy, Lewerke is one of the better quarterbacks in the league.
Lewerke will have the benefit of a healthy receiving corps to throw to in 2019, at least to start. Leading receiver Cody White is back after leading the team in receiving last year despite missing four games with a hand injury. He finished with 42 receptions, 555 yards and two touchdowns. Darrell Strewert Jr., who was dealing with an ankle injury last season, is also back after catching 48 passes for 413 yards. Jalen Nailor should be the guy to step up for Felton Davis III. Nailor is a big play threat. He averaged 17.25 yards per catch last season. The Spartans will look to Cam Chambers (19 rec. 264 yards), Laress Nelson (12 rec 114 yards) and C.J. Hayes (1 rec. 13 yards) for depth.
The Spartan running game was hit by the injury bug as well as L.J. Scott only played in five games. In his stead junior to be Connor Heyward had a solid season toting the rock 118 times for 529 yards and five touchdowns. Behind Heyward could be a true freshman, Anthony Williams Jr., a three-star prospect out of Chicago. He was in for spring practice and looked solid.
Junior Matt Dotson is back at tight end after catching 14 passes for 159 yards and a score. He came in with the reputation as a very good pass catcher, but struggled last year with drops. Behind him is redshirt freshmen Trenton Gillison.
However, it all starts and ends with the offensive line. If they don’t improve the Spartans will not compete for an East title. The good news is that the Spartans retrun six offensive linemen who started a year ago. The group is headlined by right guard Kevin Jarvis. Matt Allen returns at center and Tyler Higby will start at left guard. The tackle positions will be manned by senior Cole Chewins on the left side and true freshman Devonte Dobbs has pushed his way past returning starter Jordan Reid at right tackle.There is more than enough experienced depth here, the question is can they improve on a bad season in 2018?
Don’t let last year’s 7-6 record fool you, this Spartans defense was one of the best in the nation and it has a chance to be elite once again in 2019. The Spartans finished 8th nationally in scoring defense (17.2 ppg) and 10th in total defense (303.2 ypg) in 2018 and return eight starters in 2019.
Michigan State’s success starts upfront where three of the four starters were named to some level of pre-season All-Big Ten, including All-American Kenny Willekes. Fellow seniors Raequan Williams and Mike Panasiuk create a wall on the interior. The two combined to make 16.5 tackles for loss and 3.5 sacks. Junior Jacob Panasiuk will get the nod at the end position opposite Williams. He had 4.5 TFLs and two sacks a year ago. Junior Naquan Jones provides depth at either tackle position. He has 39 career tackles and 6.5 TFLs. Jack Camper and Brandon Bouyer-Randle will fill out the rest of the back up roles.
The gauntlet does not get any easier as you move to the next level of the defense. The linebackers are led by Joe Bache, who is an All-American and is back for what seems to be his 15th year at Michigan State (actucally just four). Bache is the heart beat of the Spartan defense, when a play needs to be made to win a game there’s a great chance he’s the one to make it. He recorded 102 tackles, 8.5 TFLs, three forced fumbles and a pick in 2018 and has 214 tackles and 17 TFLs for his career. Tyriq Thompson is back after making 31 tackles last year and junior Antjuan Simmons will man MSU’s STAR position after playing in 26 career games. Jeslord Boateng is his back up there.
On the back end, the Spartans have to replace Justin Layne and Khari Willis, but they do return playmakers Josiah Scott who only played five games last year (13 tackles, 2 INTs, 9 passes defensed) and David Dowell (59 tackles, 2 INTs) . Senior Josh Butler will get the first chance to fill the hole left by Layne with true freshman Kalon Gervin behind him. Xavier Henderson will try and live up to the hype that surrounds him at safety in place of Willis.
Special Teams Preview
The Spartans returns everyone in the kicking and punting game. Punter Jake Hartbarger is back after being granted a sixth year of eligibility due to a broken leg last year. He’s an All-Big Ten caliber punter who was averging over 48 yards per punt before his injury last year.
Field goals will be handled by Matt Coglin again after he connected on 18-of-22 attempts last year as a sophomore.
Cole Hahn was the kickoff specialist last season and should be in that spot again. He had a touchback rate of 40.68 percent on 59 kickoffs.
The Spartans are hoping that speedy wide receiver Jalen Nailor can provide a spark in the punt return game. Heyward handled kickoff duties last year, but that should change as it is a wide open competition right now.
Past 2019 First Glance Previews
Week One: Ball State
Week Two: Eastern Illinois
Week Three: Ohio State
Week Four: Connecticut