Scouting Report: Michigan State Brings Momentum, Stellar Run Defense to Columbus

By James Grega on November 6, 2017 at 10:10 am
Michigan State
Mike Carter-USA TODAY Sports

Since Mark Dantonio and Urban Meyer began coaching head-to-head in the Big Ten, the battles have always been close. 

While Meyer continues to dazzle on the recruiting trail, Dantonio has quietly rebuilt his team from a 3-9 record a season ago, putting Michigan State in the driver's seat to win the Big Ten East if it can beat Ohio State on Saturday.

The home team has not won a game in this series since 2007, when Ohio State defeated Dantonio's first Michigan State team, 24-17, at Ohio Stadium. 

Ten years later, the Spartans are set to return to Columbus, again looking to pull the upset that kept Ohio State out of the Big Ten title game in 2015.

Without further delay, we take a look at Michigan State's personnel in this week's scouting report.

Offense (Multiple)

Quarterback: Brian Lewerke (No. 14) 6-foot-3, 212 pounds, sophomore


  • Experience gained from 2016 has helped immensely this season. Comfortable in the pocket, throws in rhythm off of play action. 
  • Deceptively good runner. A threat to keep the ball on the zone read and has good speed. 
  • Throws the ball well on goal line fades as well as on the run. 


  • Inconsistent. Has two games of more than 400 yards passing this year, but also has one of under 100 yards. 
  • Has a tendency to telegraph throws at times. 

Running back: LJ Scott (No. 3) 6-foot-1, 229 pounds, junior


  • Strong runner. Runs well behind his pads and usually breaks through first contact. 
  • A threat out of the backfield in the passing game. Has 15 receptions this season. 


  • Has a tendency to put the ball on the ground in critical moments. 
  • Struggles to get in a rhythm due to running back rotation. 

Wide receivers: Felton Davis III (No. 18) 6-foot-4, 195 pounds, junior / Darrell Stewart (No. 25) 6-foot-2, 210 pounds, sophomore / Cody White (No. 7) 6-foot-3, 206 pounds, freshman / Tight end Matt Sokol (No. 81) 6-foot-6, 250 pounds, junior


  • Davis has great size and speed which makes him a weapon in one-on-one situations and near the end zone. He leads Michigan State in all major receiving categories. He had a career game on Saturday against Penn State, collecting 12 passes for 181 yards and a touchdown.
  • This entire unit has good size, which makes the Spartans a candidate to take a page from Indiana's playbook and utilize back-shoulder throws. 


  • The knock on this group early in the season was its inexperience. However, nine games into the season, inexperience is no longer the label to give this group. Their size and speed make them all downfield threats.  

Offensive line: LT Cole Chewins (No. 61) 6-foot-8, 284 pounds, sophomore / LG David Beedle (No. 59) 6-foot-5, 329 pounds, junior / C Brian Allen (No. 65) 6-foot-2, 302 pounds, senior / RG Kevin Jarvis (No. 75) 6-foot-4, 312 pounds, freshman / RT Luke Campbell (No. 62) 6-foot-5, 293 pounds, redshirt freshman 


  • Pass protection. Michigan State has allowed just 12 sacks this season, tying the Spartans for second-fewest in the Big Ten. 
  • Center Brian Allen is a three-year starter, which undoubtedly helps the younger players around him in his unit. 


  • Running the ball. Despite having a stellar back in Scott, the Spartans are averaging only 156.8 yards per game on the ground, good for just eighth in the conference. 
  • The right side of Michigan State's offensive line is its weak point, with a pair of freshmen protecting Lewerke's front side. 

Overall analysis: After a season in which the entire Michigan State offense struggled, the Spartans appear to be hitting their stride. Lewerke is coming off back-to-back 400-yard passing games and his wide receivers are making plays for him and winning 50/50 balls near the end zone. 

In the past, Michigan State's running game has been its staple, but the Spartans have had a hard time winning the line of scrimmage this season. Scott has struggled with fumbles again, and splitting time with fellow running backs Madre London and Gerald Holmes keeps him from getting into a rhythm. If Ohio State can shut down the Michigan State passing attack, the Buckeyes have a good chance to win. 

Defense (4-3)

Defensive line: DE Kenny Willekes (No. 48) 6-foot-4, 244 pounds, sophomore / DT Mike Panasiuk (No. 72) 6-foot-4, 294 pounds, sophomore / DT Raequan Williams (No. 99) 6-foot-4, 300 pounds, sophomore / DE Demetrius Cooper (No. 98) 6-foot-6, 249 pounds, senior


  • Stopping the run. Combined with a good linebacker group, the Michigan State defensive line has the Spartans ranked No. 1 in the Big Ten in rushing defense. 
  • Willekes is Michigan State's top pass rusher, tallying 4.5 sacks this season.


  • At times, this group is used simply to take up blocks to make way for the linebackers, who make most of the tackles in the backfield for Michigan State. 

Linebackers: WLB Andrew Dowell (No. 5) 6-foot-1, 222 pounds, junior / MLB Joe Bachie (No. 35) 6-foot-2, 233 pounds, sophomore / SLB Chris Frey (No. 23) 6-foot-2, 238 pounds, senior


  • Bachie and Frey blitz often and have made multiple plays in opposing offense's backfields this season. 
  • Dowell plays more in space and while he won't be asked to blitz as much, is a sure tackler and ranks second on the team in stops with 61. 


  • This group struggles at times in pass coverage. Will not play much man at the second level. 

Defensive backs: CB Justin Layne (No. 2) 6-foot-3, 180 pounds, sophomore / FS David Dowell (No. 6) 6-foot-1, 191 pounds, sophomore / SS Khari Willis (No. 27) 6-foot, 215 pounds, junior / CB Josiah Scott (No. 22) 5-foot-10, 173 pounds, freshman


  • Layne has tremendous size and speed for his position, making him a candidate to play press-man coverage to his side. 
  • Dowell has been a ball-hawk all season from his safety position and has collected four interceptions already this season. 
  • Lewis, the lone upperclassman in this group, plays well in run support and has 60 tackles this season.


  • Scott has been the weak point of this unit. He gives up size to most outside receivers. His speed is what gets him on the field. 
  • The secondary is perhaps the weak point of the Spartan defense, as Michigan State is allowing 216.7 yards per game through the air, ranking them ninth in the conference. The Spartans have allowed 350+ yards in each of their last two games against Northwestern and Penn State. 

Overall analysis: If you are going to beat Michigan State, you better be able to throw the football. The Spartans have stifled opposing offenses all season on the ground, surrendering more than 100 yards rushing on just three occasions this season. Overall this season, Michigan State is allowing 2.85 yards per carry. The secondary has talent, but is young and has some weaknesses. Cornerback Josiah Scott has promise, but is slightly undersized and has struggled at times this season. 

Those who have watched the Ohio State and Michigan State matchups since 2012 know that it almost always comes down to the fourth quarter and which team has more in the tank at the end. It also comes down to coaching. Dantonio was a two-point conversion away from toppling Ohio State last season and could have possibly taken the Buckeyes to overtime with an extra point. Dantonio has had Meyer's number when it comes to Dantonio's defense against Meyer's offense, but Meyer has a slim, 3-2 edge on the Spartans in their five meetings since 2012. 

Special Teams

Kicker: Matt Coughlin (No. 4) 5-foot-9, 188 pounds, redshirt freshman

Punter: Jake Hartbarger (No. 25) 6-foot-4, 201 pounds, junior

Analysis: Coughlin has been steady this season, converting on 9-of-13 field goal attempts, including the game-winner last week to beat Penn State. Hartbarger has also been reliable, averaging 41.9 yards per boot and has dropped 21 of his 51 kicks inside the opponents 20-yard line. 

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