When Michigan State reached fall camp, Brian Lewerke and Felton Davis had spent two years together in the football program.
Davis, a junior wide receiver, didn’t realize until then that he had never seen Lewerke ice his arm.
“I throw four passes and my arm hurts,” Davis said. “I’ve gotta ice it.”
But no, Lewerke said, he didn’t do it — until he had to. And Lewerke and the ice pack have become steady companions this season.
Michigan State’s struggling run game has required Lewerke, a sophomore, to throw more than anyone expected, and as much as anyone else in coach Mark Dantonio’s tenure.
Before Lewerke came along, Michigan State quarterbacks had thrown 50 times or more in a game nine times. Three had done so under Dantonio. Lewerke has done so three times. And with 57 and 56 tosses in the last two games, respectively, he claimed the No. 2 and No. 3 spots for passes thrown in the record book.
Some quality time with an ice pack followed. He has to be ready to do the same thing again, if it’s asked of him, on Saturday (noon ET, FOX) at Ohio State. A shot at a Big Ten East title could rest on his arm.
“I could throw 100 times if I needed to,” Lewerke said. “Ice it up and get it ready.”
Dantonio would prefer not to ask that much of him. The Spartans are 1-2 when Lewerke has thrown more than 50 times this season, with most of the 51 attempts against Notre Dame coming as they tried to play catch-up. But Dantonio remains confident in Lewerke’s ability to handle it.
“Am I comfortable throwing that many times?” Dantonio said. “As long as we don’t have a lot of interceptions, yeah. I would be comfortable as long as we have a lot of completions. But it’s normally not good, I don’t think, if you have to throw it that many times. But we were successful, we won the football game [against Penn State], so everybody’s happy.”
Not Penn State, of course. Lewerke connected on 33 attempts against the Nittany Lions for his second straight 400-yard game. The only time he was intercepted came via a deflection off Davis’ hands that couldn’t have been blamed on the quarterback.
Other than that, Lewerke’s wide receivers looked as sure-handed as could be, a big reason why he has found so much success. From Davis’ diving touchdown grab to Cody White’s one-handed snag in crunch time, they got the job done.
“Obviously I don’t make a perfect throw every time,” Lewerke said, “but it’s nice knowing they’ll go up and make a play no matter where the ball is, and they showed that on Saturday.”
There’s give and take. Lewerke likes that he can rely on his receivers to go and get the ball. They like that Lewerke can extend plays. Michigan State didn’t see much of that from his predecessors, Connor Cook and Tyler O’Connor.
Michigan State has allowed 1.3 sacks per game this year, better than the last two seasons. Give the offensive line credit, but Lewerke’s legs do plenty of the work. And when he extends a broken play while keeping his eyes downfield, it can lead to big rewards.
“You actually get more yards with that once he just starts scrambling around, because the defense is scrambling too,” Davis said. “If somebody’s gotta go get him, somebody’s gotta also cover you.”
Lewerke’s freewheeling style can lead to some issues. Against Northwestern, the game ended in triple overtime with a fumble on the snap, then a scramble, then a heave across the field that got picked off in the end zone.
But far more often than not, it’s paid off for Michigan State. With only 5 interceptions thrown on the year, the Spartans rank second in the Big Ten behind only Iowa.
Lewerke has been lauded by his coach for embracing the big moment. Saturday against Ohio State will be one long, big moment. Win, and a chance at a conference title is still in the Spartans’ control. Lose, and hope for the best.
“We definitely feel the tension,” Lewerke said. “We feel the intensity of what a win on Saturday can mean for us going into the rest of the year.”
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