At the halfway point of the 2017 season, not many truly objective fans would have predicted the Spartans sitting at five and one, undefeated in the Big Ten, and with a top ten road win on their resume. Yet, that is exactly where the Spartans are. After an off- season that saw the Spartans lose a number of impact players, to the NFL or otherwise, the Spartans have shown tremendous strides on offense. Largely due to this offense, which has done just enough to win, the Spartans have turned out to be a dark horse contender for the Big Ten East, although the most challenging conference games are still yet to be played. While improvements need to be made, Spartan fans should be optimistic about the offense so far.
The week-to-week improvement has been noteworthy. The running game has especially come on of late, putting up 245 yards against Minnesota and 158 yards against a top five rushing defense in Michigan, granted Brian Lewerke led all rushers that game with 61 yards. It is fair to say that the rain in the last two games has made the running game a necessity, and the playbook was reduced, but the numbers are still impressive. Another promising sign is that after his 194 yards against Minnesota, LJ Scott has finally taken the leading rusher title away from Brian Lewerke. A strong rushing attack from the Spartans tailbacks will only complement the creativity that Lewerke shows with his legs, and will be important moving forward.
Through the air, Lewerke is also progressing. The last two games have hindered his throwing abilities due to weather conditions, but he is still completing 60.1% of his passes for 1,177 yards this season and has completed 9 touchdown passes. So far this season, the Spartans are sharing the ball pretty evenly amongst the receivers, but the main target seems to be Felton Davis III, who leads the team with 24 receptions, 300 yards, and 4 touchdowns. Davis III has also emerged as the go to red zone target, with three of his four touchdowns passes coming from inside the 20-yard line.
The trouble for this offense so far continues to be turnovers, even though the Spartans went two games in a row without turning the ball over. Last game, the Spartans turned the ball over three times against Minnesota, making the turnovers total 11 in six games for the team. Although Brian Lewerke has made strides week to week, last week was slightly troubling in that it seemed, at times, he had trouble seeing Minnesota defenders and threw the ball right to them. Also, although LJ Scott had a monster game, he did turn the ball over for the fourth time this season. The Spartans have only taken themselves out of a game once so far this season, against Notre Dame, but the turnovers will need to be cleaned up moving forward, with back-to-back top 10 opponents looming. One more troublesome statistic is that in the last three games, the Spartans have been shut out in the second half twice, against Iowa and Michigan. This is due to a number of factors, including conservative play calling, but it is something that will need to improve for the Spartans to compete with against stronger opponents.
Overall, although stagnant at times, the offense has done what it needs to do. Moving forward, the Spartans will need to keep offensive momentum going in the second half, as the ‘play not to lose’ mindset that the Spartans have had late in games lately might not cut it against the Big Ten’s best. With that being said, there are plenty of positives at the halfway point, and it is important to keep in mind the youth of this team. Many players starting on this offense right now are still going to be wearing the green and white in 2019, and that is a great sign for the future.