EAST LASNING, MICH. - It was defense against offense. The scoring system was unclear. A number of players did not dress.
Michigan State still held its annual spring game today, the 13th of 15 practices. It was a two-hour respite from an issue-filled three months that carries a number of questions into Mark Dantonio’s 11th off-season.
Using a modified scoring system, the defense defeated the offense, 33-23, in front of an estimated 25,000 fans – half of what MSU drew a year ago for its spring game. But the final score and stats were irrelevant for a team coming off a disastrous 3-9 season and facing a considerable amount of uncertainty.
There were 15 players listed on the 86-man roster who were not in uniform for one reason or another.
Three Spartans and a football staff member remain suspended while awaiting a prosecutor’s determination of whether to file charges over their potential roles in a sexual assault allegations from Jan. 16. The university made that public on Feb. 9, as well as two other investigations – a Title IX case and a school-issued probe – being done by outside law firms into the football program.
Dantonio, the only coach or player made available to the media after the game, addressed that situation in a Tuesday news conference. That was the first time he met with reporters since Feb. 1.
After calling football matters “trivial” four days earlier and focusing on the “extremely serious” investigations into his program, Dantonio turned his comments solely toward his team on the field today.
“I think that we need to move on the moment. I think we needed to move forward,” Dantonio said. “I told our players the other day that we were going to step into the light. You know, time marches on. This is a big program, and it’s a serious situation and all that but you need to move forward. Our players deserve it and our fans deserve it.”
Only two quarterbacks, Brian Lewerke and walk-on Colar Kuhns, took snaps, with sophomore-to-be Lewerke getting the bulk of the reps. Damion Terry dressed but did not play; Messiah deWeaver did not dress but worked the headset standing next to Terry and QB coach Brad Salem. Big Ten Network’s broadcast said deWeaver is injured.
“I also think our other quarterbacks are good players, too. But right now, he’s the guy,” Dantonio said of Lewerke, who completed 25 of 44 passes for 305 yards, a touchdown and two interceptions.
For the offense, Madre London scored a 75-yard touchdown and ran for 127 yards on 15 carries as projected starter LJ Scott did not play. The connection of Lewerke and receiver Trishton Jackson (eight catches, 168 yards) showed some flashes of being the next big passing combo with Donnie Corley not in uniform. Gerald Holmes got the start at running back.
On defense, true freshman cornerback Josiah Scott was the story with a game-high eight tackles and an interception while joining Vayante Copeland in the starting group. Dantonio affirmed that sophomore Joe Bachie will be his new first-string middle linebacker. Former walk-on Kenny Willekes, who Dantonio said has received a scholarship, got the start opposite Auston Robertson at defensive end and also made eight tackles. Austin Andrews had an interception while playing safety.
MSU is scheduled to open the 2017 season at home against Bowling Green on Sept. 2, though that game could be moved up a day to that Friday of Labor Day weekend.
Before that, they will have two more practices next week.
“And we’ll get a lot out of those practices,” Dantonio said. “But I think we’ve had a good, solid spring.”
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