It’s been two whole years, but it’s finally close to that time where we get revenge on those dang Michiganders who ruined our chance at making the College Football Playoff. That’s right, the Hawkeyes travel to East Lansing for Michigan State week, where they haven’t played since an overtime victory in 2012.
Since it’s been a couple years, most are probably pretty unfamiliar with what Sparty looks like these days. They went 3-9 last year, but what about their team in 2017? Luckily for us, we got Matt Sheehan from The Only Colors to answer some questions about the 2017 Michigan State Spartans for us. We touch on a wide range of topics, including sophomore Brian Lewerke, Sparty’s stout defense, and who Matt thinks will win this coming Saturday (spoiler: I think you’ll like what he has to say).
With that, let’s get to it.
Max: Sparty had a horrific year last year, ending the season 3-9, their worst since the Dantonio era began. What were fan expectations like to start 2017, and after three games, have they been adjusted at all?
Matt: All nine of those losses were the refs fault (kidding). I get a feel the consensus expectation from most of the fanbase was to just get back on our feet and back to a bowl game this year. This is an incredibly young team as 12 true freshmen have played at some point this year, and this is really the rebuilding year. Last year was the perfect storm.
I don't think expectations have wavered at all after three games, but we certainly aren't as comfortable in hitting them as we were before the Notre Dame game. Hoo boy, that was bad. But yes -- expectations are still in tact, but they weren't the highest to begin with.
Max: IS MARK DANTONIO ON THE HOT SEAT?
Matt: YOU'RE DARN RIGHT HE is not on the hot seat. Unless he's somehow tied in these FBI/NCAA basketball allegations, I think he's fine regardless of what happens this year. Maybe if they don't win a game the rest of the year then he's in trouble. However, all the people in the know seem to think he is pretty safe. However, if they miss a bowl, the rest of the staff has to be in trouble.
Max: Talk about quarterback Brian Lewerke - what kind of quarterback is he and what can Iowa fans expect to see out of him on Saturday?
Matt: His first two starts were great with his third against Notre Dame being a tad rocky. I -- and many others -- see him as a great option for the future of MSU football.
He can make plays with his legs and has done so in all three games this year. The dude is quick in the open field and can escape pressure in some cases. His arm is pretty good, but there's been times were he throws too low and makes his receivers dive instead of giving them a chance to run after the catch. He sometimes has a habit of staring down receivers. So, really, young QB stuff.
Max: Iowa fans remember L.J. Scott very well, but the rest of the supporting cast is pretty different. Who does the supporting cast comprise of and what do they bring to the table?
Matt: For receivers -- which was a big question mark before the season -- the top dogs are speedy Darrell Stewart and tall, sure-handed Felton Davis. Young fellas Trishton Jackson and Hunter Rison are also off of solid performances against Notre Dame.
For running backs, it's a three-headed monster. Gerald Holmes is the powerful back who can grind out 3-4 yards seemingly whenever he gets the ball, and Madre London is the hybrid between Holmes and Scott.
Max: The Spartan D allows just 254 yards per game this season. How much of that is the competition they've faced this season (212 yards allowed vs. BGSU, 195 vs. WMU) and how much is it the talent on that side of the ball?
Matt: The defense has been a pleasant surprise, namely the performances of new starting linebacker Joe Bachie and former walk-on defensive end Kenny Willekes. True freshman Josiah Scott has also been an absolute stud this year at cornerback -- he's arguably been the team MVP thus far.
Does a lot of this have to do with the MAC competition in the first two weeks? It sure does, but WMU did get 350+ yards of offense against USC. So really, and I hate to say this approaching our fourth game, but I feel like the jury is still out on how good this defense really is.
Max: Finish this sentence: Michigan State will defeat Iowa if...
Matt: They don't commit turnovers that make me yelp like I stepped on a Lego. MSU's three turnovers turned into 21 first half points last week, and that's not ideal (hot take). They also need to get the run game really going. It hasn't been terrible by any means, but each running back is averaging 4.2 yards -- could be better with their talent.
On defense, it's as simply said as getting third down stops. Iowa will get their chunks of yards with efficient passing and a stout run game -- so when the Hawkeyes are against the ropes, Sparty needs to take care of business. They did not do so last weekend.
Max: Alright, prediction time. Who ya got and why?
Matt: Iowa 20, MSU 13. I'm feeling an ugly, low-scoring game. After watching you guys hold Penn State to 21 points, I can't sit here and imagine a MSU offense that's still a work-in-progress having better luck. It pains me to say this, but I'm seeing 2-2 in MSU's future.
Thanks to Matt for his time and insight! Of course, I hope the Hawkeyes throw nine hundred points on your team. For more on all things Michigan State, check out The Only Colors and find them on Twitter at @TheOnlyColors, and follow Matt at @Sheehan_Sports. Go Hawks.