Blue and Gold Illustrated

Sept. 25, 2017

Blue & Gold Illustrated: America's Foremost Authority on Notre Dame Football

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36 SEPT. 25, 2017 BLUE & GOLD ILLUSTRATED was abysmal last season, rank- ing 72nd in pass efficiency. Red- shirt sophomore Brian Lewerke has taken over the starting role, and his talent and early play has Michigan State thinking it has its heir apparent at quarterback. "He's a good quarterback right now, and they are excited about him," Comparoni said of Lewerke. "He reminds them of Kirk Cousins, and he's going to continue to develop. He's got some tools to work with. "It was very important because if Michigan State was going to re- gain traction as a program, to have a sophomore like this that looks like he has a good future — that was a key element to begin getting them back to being a good team." Lewerke completed 64.8 per- cent of his passes and threw for 411 yards in the first two games, but he also led the Spartan offense with 150 rushing yards, including a 61-yard touchdown scamper in the win over Western Michigan. His ability to make plays with his legs has allowed the Michigan State coaches to add some new wrinkles to the offense. "They're incorporating the read option into the offense now," Com- paroni noted. "He did it just a few times against Western Michigan, did it in some money situations, so that's a good weapon to have." Quarterback play was hardly the lone factor to Michigan State's rise under Dantonio. The former Ohio State defensive coordinator had es- tablished the Spartans as one of the better defensive teams in the country. It is still early, but the Michigan State defense has been very good so far, holding Bowling Green and Western Michigan to just 203.5 yards per game and 3.5 yards per play after giving up 364.8 yards per game and 5.5 yards per play a season ago. The Spartans were especially produc- tive up front, and through two games the line has been the driving force in the improved play. That has been one of the pleasant surprises for Michigan State, which had three defensive line- men suspended in the offseason. "It was a crisis situation, but they've manufactured a way out of it quicker than I anticipated," Compar- oni said. "They've done it with young defensive tackles that are ahead of the game and a couple of walk-on defen- sive ends that have really helped." Redshirt sophomore Raequan Wil- liams and true sophomore Mike Panasiuk showed promise late in 2016, and now the pair have become impact players for the MSU defensive line. " T h e y c a m e o n m i d w a y through last year, and last No- vember when the season was in the toilet Panasiuk began to start as a true freshman and played like a junior," Comparoni noted. "He could take on double teams against Ohio State and stood firm against those guys. He's a good player right now heading towards becoming an All-Big Ten guy. "Raequan Williams is good, probably an NFL player. Those two defensive tackles can take on the interior run and take on dou- ble teams and not give an inch." On the outside, the Spartans are more about toughness and maximizing what ability is there than it is about pure talent like the interior. In fact, both of Mich- igan State's current starting ends are former walk-ons. "Kenny Willekes and Dillon Alex- ander, they aren't doing much with the pass rush, but they play the run well," Comparoni explained. "At the point of attack they don't get moved off the line. They can plug it in there pretty good. "The defensive line plays the line pretty well. I'm not saying they're Clemson, but they are good enough to stop the run against most teams." Comparoni said that behind the line is a player that he expects to be truly special in a Spartans uniform. Sopho- more middle linebacker Joe Bachie led the team with 21 tackles through the first two games, his first career starts. "I said Joe Bachie is going to be bet- ter than Riley [Bullough] right away and he is," Comparoni boasted. "He's an improvement at Mike linebacker as a true sophomore. He reads it, comes forward with quickness and he's firm." One concern for Michigan State's defense is its inability to get after the quarterback. The Spartans had just 12 total sacks a season ago, but through two games the Michigan State defense has already tallied five quarterback takedowns. The worry is that only one of those sacks has come from the defensive front. Yet again, we see another parallel between the Spartans and the Irish. ✦ GAME PREVIEW: MICHIGAN STATE 2017 MICHIGAN STATE SCHEDULE Date Opponent (TV) Result/Time (ET) Sept. 2 Bowling Green W, 35-10 Sept. 9 Western Michigan W, 28-14 Sept. 23 Notre Dame (FOX) 8 p.m. Sept. 30 Iowa TBA Oct. 7 at Michigan TBA Oct. 14 at Minnesota TBA Oct. 21 Indiana TBA Oct. 28 at Northwestern TBA Nov. 4 Penn State TBA Nov. 11 at Ohio State TBA Nov. 18 Maryland TBA Nov. 25 at Rutgers TBA 2017 NOTRE DAME SCHEDULE Date Opponent (TV) Result/Time (ET) Sept. 2 Temple W, 49-16 Sept. 9 Georgia L, 20-19 Sept. 16 at Boston College W, 49-20 Sept. 23 at Michigan State (FOX) 8 p.m. Sept. 30 Miami (Ohio) (NBCSN) 5 p.m. Oct. 7 at North Carolina TBA Oct. 21 USC (NBC) 7:30 p.m. Oct. 28 NC State (NBC) 3:30 p.m. Nov. 4 Wake Forest (NBC) 3:30 p.m. Nov. 11 at Miami (Fla.) TBA Nov. 18 Navy (NBC) 3:30 p.m. Nov. 25 at Stanford TBA Redshirt sophomore Brian Lewerke is expected to be the next standout Michigan State quarterback. PHOTO COURTESY MICHIGAN STATE

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