Michigan State ready to fly, but offense needs to come aboard

EAST LANSING, Mich. — Michigan State coach Mark Dantonio isn’t greedy.

All he’s asking for, at this point, is just for one complete game from his team. His defense has dominated, but the No. 16 Spartans (6-1, 4-0 Big Ten) have mustered just 19½ points per game in conference play.

“It would be great to have this one and the next one and the next one,” Dantonio said of playing a good all-around game. “But we’re always trying to score points. … This morning, I was in the offensive meeting room saying, ‘Hey, score points.’ It’s just that simple.

“The head coach comes in there and says, ‘Hey, score some points.’ It’s like I keep saying: ‘Run that play over again, when that guy catches that post and runs for a touchdown.’ ”

Against Northwestern on Saturday (3:30 p.m. ET,  ESPN), Michigan State might have a chance to do that. The Wildcats rank 13th in the Big Ten in passing defense, allowing 245.9 yards per game. But the Spartans have a young quarterback in Brian Lewerke, who struggled with his accuracy for much of their 17-9 win over Indiana last week before leading a game-winning drive.

He has some emerging freshman targets. Hunter Rison snagged a fourth-down pass to help seal Michigan State’s win. Cody White moved past sophomore Trishton Jackson at receiver on the depth chart after catching 6 balls for 99 yards. Dantonio compared his team to the 2013 group that won the Rose Bowl.

“I think we’re always trying to attack to get points,” Dantonio said. “If you look back at ’13, we were a young football team, had a sophomore quarterback [Connor Cook], a lot of guys that … were not entrenched at the wide receiver position. We had no tailback at the time until Jeremy [Langford] sort of started. We started coming mid-year or a little before mid-year, started moving in that direction.”

But that team won every Big Ten game by double digits, including the conference championship game against Ohio State. These Spartans haven’t done that yet. It’s hard to do when has scored more than 20 points only once.

The offense seems to be the only thing holding the Spartans back. Punter Jake Hartbarger continues to flip the field consistently with his pinpoint kicks. Kicker Matt Coghlin has hit 6 of 8 field goals as a freshman, only missing from longer than 40 yards. Freshman Connor Heyward has impressed in the return game.

And the defense ranks fourth nationally in total defense at 262.1 yards allowed per game, only trailing No. 1 Alabama, No. 3 Georgia and No. 12 Washington. On the other side, the Spartans have done just enough.

“We expect our offense to score points, and when they’re not, we take it upon ourselves to step up and play our game and do what we have to do to win the game,” linebacker Chris Frey said after the win over Indiana. “I think the way that our defense was playing and getting the stops, it gave our offense confidence late in the game. They stepped their game up and they won the game for us in the end, putting points on the board.”

Just enough won’t likely be enough against Penn State and Ohio State. Things only get tougher from here. Northwestern shouldn’t be seen as a tune-up; the Wildcats have won their last two games against Maryland and Iowa. The Wildcats handled Michigan State in East Lansing a year ago. But the game will be the final marker of the Spartans’ progress before they take on the Big Ten’s big boys. Penn State and Ohio State are next on the schedule, with Maryland and Rutgers closing out the regular-season schedule.

“I think the defenses this year in college football have caught up a little bit with offenses,” Dantonio explained. “You’re seeing lower scores around the country. Particularly, I think in this conference, in the Big Ten, you’re seeing some lower scores. And there’s some people still scoring a lot, but I think people have caught up a little bit in that regard.

“But I don’t think there’s any question that as we go forward we want to score more. We just want to win. The bottom line is, can we score one more point than they do? And that was a great illustration of that last week.”

The post Michigan State ready to fly, but offense needs to come aboard appeared first on Land of 10.

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