2019 Season Preview: Michigan State

By Matthew Filipovits on August 14, 2019 at 9:00 am
Nov 3, 2018; College Park, MD, USA; Michigan State Spartans quarterback Brian Lewerke (14) runs for a first down during the first quarter against the Maryland Terrapins at Capital One Field at Maryland Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Tommy Gilligan-USA TODAY Sports
© Tommy Gilligan-USA TODAY Sports
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The Michigan State Spartans remain the Big Ten's biggest enigma. They win 10 games one year, then float back down to mediocrity the next. The Spartans were disastrous on offense in 2018, but instead of cleaning house, they simply shuffled their current staff around and gave everyone new titles. Will that be enough to take a veteran team with conference title aspirations back to playoff contention?


MICHIGAN STATE AT A GLANCE
Head Coach Mark Dantonio, 13th season with Michigan State (107-51), 125-68 overall
2018 Season 7-6, 5-4 (4th in Big Ten East)
2018 Postseason Redbox Bowl (7-6 loss to Oregon, excuse us while we go vomit)
Biggest Losses RB LJ Scott, WR Felton Davis, OL David Beedle
Biggest Returnees QB Brian Lewerke, LB Joe Bachie, DE Kenny Wiillekes, RB Connor Heyward, WR Cody White, OL Tyler Higby, DT Raequan Williams
Summary The Spartans were hampered with injuries and couldn't get anything going on offense, but rode the defense to a bowl appearance.
Matchup with PSU The Nittany Lions travel to East Lansing looking for revenge after consecutive single-digit losses.

Offense

Brian Lewerke is back to lead the offense after a shaky 2018 campaign. He threw for just 2,040 yards and eight touchdowns while throwing a whopping eleven interceptions. He needs to get back to his 2017 form which saw him throw for 2,793 yards and 20 touchdowns if the Spartans want to take any kind of step forward on offense. Thankfully, the Spartans should be able to provide better protection this season. Injuries decimated the offensive line a year ago, which forced a lot of young guys to play. Another year older, Dantonio and his staff have enough game footage to know who the best five will be.

Thankfully for everyone else in the conference, Felton Davis has finally moved on from East Lansing. The superstar receiver didn't put up the biggest numbers, but he did know how to break hearts. Even with his departure, the Spartans return eight of their top-nine pass catchers from a year ago. That stability will go a long way.

Four players had over 75 carries last season, with Connor Heyward leading the charge. He ended up leading the team in rushing with just 529 yards, again a byproduct of that maligned offensive line. Lewerke ranked second on the team in both rushing attempts and yards. By no means is he a dual-threat guy, but it's a luxury to have a quarterback who is serviceable with his legs.

Defense

If there's one team that can challenge Penn State's defense for the title of best in the Big Ten, it's Michigan State. First-team All-Big Ten linebacker Joe Bachie led the way with 105 tackles. He should reach triple digits once again. All-American defensive end Kenny Willekes may be the conference's best returning player. The former walk-on racked up an insane 20.5 tackles for loss a season ago. Add in All-Big Ten defensive tackle Raequan Williams and you have yourself the ingredients for a dominant front seven.

If you're going to move the ball on Michigan State, it looks like it's going to be through the air. 2018 starters in the secondary, Justin Layne, Khari Willis, and Andrew Dowell, have all moved on, leaving rising junior Josiah Scott as the leader of the unit. Although he played in just five games last season, he finished fourth on the team in pass breakups a year ago. Safety David Dowell is entering his third season as a starter and like Lewerke, a return to his 2017 form would do wonders for the Spartans.

Special teams

Punter Tyler Hunt was having a terrific freshman season before suffering a torn ACL ahead of the Purdue game. If he's healthy and returns to form, the Spartans shouldn't have much to worry about in that regard. Kicker Matt Coghlin returns after a solid 2018 season, as does kickoff specialist Cole Hahn.

2019 Outlook

On paper, the Spartans look like a tough team to beat.  However, Dantonio retaining everyone on staff from the atrocity that was the 2018 Michigan State offense does not inspire much confidence. The defense will carry this team to bowl eligibility and maybe a win over someone the Spartans should probably lose to. They travel to Northwestern, Wisconsin, Ohio State, and Michigan, but do get the Nittany Lions in East Lansing. They'll need to win at least two of those road games and extend their winning streak over Penn State if they want to stay in the Big Ten East race.

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