In 2017, Michigan State went 10-3 and ended their season with a 42-17 blowout win over Washington State in the Holiday Bowl. The Spartans appeared to be well on their way to another excellent season as Brian Lewerke, LJ Scott, and other stars returned.
The 2018 season did not go the way that many in East Lansing hoped. They started with a 38-31 win over Utah State, holding on to start the season with a win. They traveled to Arizona State the following week and lost 16-13 despite Lewerke throwing for over 300 yards. The next two games were kinder to the Spartans, as they beat Indiana 35-21 and Central Michigan 31-20. They lost 29-19 to Northwestern in an ugly game, again despite Lewerke passing 300 yards on the day.
The following week, Michigan State played Penn State in a game that could define the course of the rest of their season. They upset the Nittany Lions on the road 21-17, but were sent crashing down by a 21-7 loss to Michigan the next week. They beat Purdue and Maryland in consecutive games by double digits before dropping ugly games to Ohio State and Nebraska. They ended the season with another ugly game, this time a 14-10 win over Rutgers. They finished the regular season 7-5 and earned a bid in the Redbox Bowl against Oregon, an lost yet another ugly game 7-6. They finished the season 7-6 and left many people wondering what this team could have been without so many injuries.
Brian Lewerke began the season as starting quarterback and completed 54.3% of his passes, throwing for 2,040 yards, eight touchdowns, and 11 interceptions. His best game was against Utah State when he completed 69.7% of his passes for 287 yards and two touchdowns. He also threw an interception in the game. He suffered an injury during the season and missed the Purdue and Nebraska games.Lewerke also ran for two touchdowns, against Central Michigan, and caught a pass for a touchdown against Michigan. In his absence, Rocky Lombardi played and threw for 738 yards, three touchdowns, and three interceptions, completing 44.4% of his passes. His first start, against Purdue, was his best game, throwing for 318 yards and two touchdowns. Darrell Stewart threw a four yard touchdown pass against Michigan.
Connor Heyward was Michigan State’s leading rusher, getting 529 yards and five touchdowns. His best games were against Maryland, when he ran for 157 yards and two touchdowns and against Nebraska, when he ran for 80 yards and had 78 receiving yards. LJ Scott was hurt for a majority of the season, only playing five games, but ran for 264 yards. His highest yardage total was 84, which he reached twice, against Utah State and in the Redbox Bowl against Oregon. La’darius Jefferson added 255 yards and two touchdowns. His best game was against Penn State, when he ran for 60 yards and a touchdown.
Though he only played nine games due to injury, Cody White led the team in receiving yards, getting 555 yards and two touchdowns. His best game was against Arizona State when he got 113 yards and a touchdown. Felton Davis also missed significant time with a career-ending Achilles injury and ended the season with 474 yards and four touchdowns. His best game was against Penn State, when he got 100 yards and two touchdowns. He also had 96 yards and a touchdown against Northwestern and added two carries for 50 yards, taking one for a touchdown. Darrell Stewart had 413 yards and a touchdown on the season. He had his highest yardage total and his only touchdown against Purdue, when he had 60 receiving yards.
Cam Chambers ended the season with 264 yards, having his best game against Northwestern, when he had 82 yards. Brandon Sowards added 201 yards on the year, having another big game against Northwestern with 59 yards. Jalen Nailor had 128 yards and a touchdown, and had 79 yards and a touchdown against Indiana. Matt Dotson and Matt Sokol were solid at tight end. Dotson had 159 yards and a touchdown and Sokol had 100 yards and a touchdown on the season. Felton Davis was named an honorable mention by both the Big Ten coaches and media.
Offensive line was a bit of a revolving door for Michigan State in 2018, as injuries caused different units to start seemingly every week. The main core of the line contained Cole Chewins, David Beedle, Tyler Higby, Kevin Jarvis, and Jordan Reid. Luke Campbell and Matt Allen also saw significant time.
Michigan State’s offense struggled in 2018, scoring less than 20 points in eight of their 13 games. Injuries were a major cause for their struggles, as their starting quarterback, running back, four of their top receivers, and five offensive linemen were injured at some point of the season. In addition to injuries, the offense simply seemed to take a step back in 2018. Before his injury, Lewerke was putting up a lot of yards, but failed to step up and win in big moments, only getting one touchdown against Arizona State and Northwestern. He had an interception in every game except he played except for the Michigan game, when he completed five of his 25 passes.
The Michigan State offense did not perform well in 2018 and contributed to a step back in the program as a whole. The offensive line never had enough guys healthy for long enough to gel as a unit, and weren’t able to block well enough for Lewerke and Lombardi to throw and for any run game to develop. In 2019, the offense will need to be more complete to help bring the Spartans back to the type of team they want to be.
Michigan State’s defense was dominant in 2018, and Kenny Willekes led the defensive line with 78 tackles, 20.5 for loss, and eight sacks. He had double digit tackles once, against Ohio State when he had 13, 3.5 for loss, and a sack. He also had an interception and forced a fumble against Utah State, and recovered a fumble against Nebraska. Jacub Panasiuk turned in another solid year at defensive end, getting 30 tackles, 4.5 tackles for loss, and two sacks. He had his best day against Michigan, getting eight tackles. He also forced a fumble against Nebraska.
Raequan Williams was excellent at defensive tackle, getting 50 tackles, 10.5 for loss, and two tackles. He had six tackles, his highest total of the season, against Purdue and Ohio State and forced a fumble against Michigan. Naquan Jones was another solid contributor at the tackle position, ending the season with 25 tackles, 3.5 for loss, and a sack. Mike Panasiuk had 24 tackles, 5.5 tackles for loss, 1.5 sacks, and an interception. He had three tackles, 0.5 sacks, and an interception against Northwestern, his best game of the season. Gerald Owens also had 11 tackles and forced a fumble against Nebraska.
Kenny Willekes was named the Big Ten’s Defensive Lineman of the Year and was named a first team all-Big Ten defensive lineman by both the coaches and the media. He was also named a consensus all-American. Williams was named a third team all-Big Ten lineman by both the coaches and media. Mike Panasiuk was named an honorable mention by the coaches and media.
Michigan State’s linebackers were another solid unit in 2018, led by Joe Bachie, who had 102 tackles, nine for loss, and a sack. He had double digit tackles four times in the season, and had his best game against Utah State with 11 tackles, 1.5 for loss, and an interception that sealed the win. He forced two fumbles and recovered one against Maryland. Andrew Dowell had 97 tackles, nine for loss, and 3.5 sacks. He had 14 tackles against Ohio State, his highest total of the season. He also had 10 tackles and a sack against Michigan, saving his two best games for the best teams on their schedule. He also forced and recovered a fumble against Nebraska.
Jon Reschke had 33 tackles, 6.5 for loss, and 0.5 sacks on the season. His best game was against Ohio State, getting nine tackles and one for loss. Antjuan Simmons had 32 tackles, 0.5 for loss, and an interception. He had seven tackles against Utah State and an interception against Indiana. Tyriq Thompson had 31 tackles, two for loss, and a sack in addition to an interception and two fumble recoveries. He had six tackles and recovered a fumble against Michigan, recovered a fumble against Penn State, and got an interception against Purdue. Brandon Randle had 21 tackles, 5.5 tackles for loss, four sacks, two forced fumbles, and a fumble recoveries. He forced fumbles against Indiana and Maryland and recovered one against Michigan. Joe Bachie was named to the first team all-Big Ten by the coaches and to the second team by the media. Andrew Dowell was named an honorable mention by the coaches and media.
Michigan State’s secondary was another solid part of a stellar defense, led by the cornerbacks. Justin Layne had 72 tackles, 2.5 tackles for loss, 0.5 sacks, and an interception. His best game was against Central Michigan, when he had nine tackles and an interception. Josiah Scott missed the first eight games with an injury, but came back for the final five to get 13 tackles, one for loss, and two interceptions, both against Rutgers. Josh Butler got hurt after three games and returned for the Redbox Bowl, ending the season with ten tackles. Shakur Brown had six tackles and an interception on the season. His interception came against Indiana, when he had a 69 yard return for a touchdown.
Khari Willis led the safeties, getting 77 tackles, 1.5 for loss, and an interception on the season. He had a season-high 15 tackles against Ohio State and had an interception against Northwestern. He also forced a fumble against Penn State. David Dowell had 59 tackles, two interceptions, and forced a fumble. He had an interception returned for a touchdown against Central Michigan and another interception against Purdue. He also forced a fumble against Nebraska. Matt Morrissey had 28 tackles and two interceptions on the season. He had interceptions against Arizona State and Purdue and had a season-high five tackles against Arizona State and Central Michigan. Tre Person and Xavier Henderson were solid safeties, as Person had a forced fumble against Arizona State and Henderson recovered a fumble against Rutgers. Both had around 15 tackles on the season.
Justin Layne was named a second team all-Big Ten defensive back by both the coaches and media. David Dowell was named to the third team by the coaches and an honorable mention by the media, Khari Willis was named to the third team by the media and an honorable mention by the coaches.
The Michigan State defense was the backbone of the team, but needed to do more in some of their losses. They allowed 28 points or more twice, and the Spartans won one and lost one, losing 29-19 to Northwestern. There isn’t too much to complain about with a defense that was stifling for most of the season and gave the offense as many opportunities to win as they did, but there is a little room for improvement as they move into 2019.
Michigan State’s special teams were solid in 2018, led by kicker Matt Coghlin. He made all 25 of his extra points and was 18 for 22 on field goals. He went three for three on both field goals and extra points against Utah State, his best game.
The punter position was a revolving door, as injuries saw five different players attempt at least one punt. Jake Hartbarger started the season, averaging 48.8 yards per attempt on six punts. He suffered a season-ending injury against Arizona State, a game when he averaged 53.5 yards on four punts. Tyler Hunt took over after that, averaging 40.1 yards on 36 kicks. He averaged 41.5 yards on 11 punts, his second consecutive game with double digit punts, kicking 10 against Penn State. He suffered an injury in that game, and Bryce Baringer took over punting duties. He averaged 32.4 yards on 15 punts, and was replaced by William Przystup. He was an improvement, getting 40.6 yards on 27 kicks to end the season. Rocky Lombardi punted once against Arizona State after Hartbarger’s injury, getting 32 yards.
Connor Heyward was the main kick returner, getting 287 yards on 13 returns. Darrell Stewart got 117 return yards on four returns. Brandon Sowards was the main punt returner, getting 81 yards on 11 returns. Cody White and Jalen Nailor also had a few returns.
Coghlin was a third team all-Big Ten punter by the coaches and first team by the media. Connor Heyward was voted an honorable mention returner by the media.
Michigan State’s 2018 season was underwhelming, a step back from their 10-3 campaign in 2017. Their offense, due to injuries and a failure to improve enough, failed to put up nearly enough points to make them competitive in some of their games. Their 2018 season was average at best and ugly at worst, and is not the same type of team Michigan State fans are used to seeing under Dantonio. To move forward into 2019, the offense will need to grow to help and take some of the pressure off of the defense.
Final AP Ranking (Preseason): Not ranked (11)
Final Coaches Poll Ranking (Preseason): Not ranked (12)
Offensive MVP: Felton Davis
Defensive MVP: Kenny Willekes