Milwaukee Journal Sentinel
UW'S NEXT OPPONENT: MICHIGAN STATE
Not long after Michigan State finished 13th in the Big Ten in scoring offense (18.7 ppg), 13th in rushing offense (124.8 ypg) and 13th in total offense (342.1 ypg) last season, head coach Mark Dantonio announced he had changed the responsibilities of several assistants.
Brad Salem was promoted from quarterbacks coach to offensive coordinator. Dave Warner and Jim Bollman, who had been co-offensive coordinators, were demoted to position coaches. Warner now coaches the quarterbacks; Bollman the offensive line. Mark Staten was switched from offensive line coach to tight end/special teams coach. Don Treadwell was switched from assistant defensive backs coach to wide receivers coach. He took over for Terrence Samuel, who was demoted from wide receivers coach to assistant defensive backs coach.
“This is probably the most significant change we have had in my 12 years here,” Dantonio said in announcing the moves in January. “But it is warranted.” The changes have resulted in modest gains.
Michigan State, which visits No. 8 Wisconsin at 2:30 p.m. Saturday, is 10th in the Big Ten in scoring at 27.8 ppg), ninth in total offense (392.2 ypg) and 10th in rushing offense (131.7 ypg). Dantonio's best teams were able to attack opponents with a power running game and then strike with big plays through the air.
Michigan State's ground game, led by redshirt freshman Elijah Collins (5.3 yards per carry, 79.3 yards per game) is so-so.
Quarterback Brian Lewerke is back from a shoulder injury that hampered him last season. He has 11 touchdown passes and only two interceptions and has two talented targets in Darrell Stewart (41 catches, 15.2-yard average and four TDs) and Cody White (2412.5-2).
However, Lewerke has completed just 58.5% of his passes and is averaging 35.3 attempts per game. Michigan State isn't built to win games that way.
The defense had to carry Michigan State too many times last season and that unit has shown a few cracks in the last two games.
Indiana quarterback Michael Penix completed 33 of 42 attempts for 286 yards and three touchdowns in a 40-31 loss to the Spartans and Ohio State rolled up 529 yards of offense, including 323 rushing, in a 34-10 victory on Saturday. The total of 323 rushing yards was the No. 2 mark for a Michigan State foe in Dantonio's 12-plus seasons as head coach.
“There were too many explosive plays and then I think we got tired in the fourth quarter,” Dantonio said of the loss to Ohio State. Nevertheless, the front seven is stout and disruptive and has helped the Spartans record 19 sacks and 48 tackles for loss in six games. Linebackers Joe Bachie and Antjuan Simmons and defensive end Kenny Willekes are the best players in the front seven. Cornerback Josiah Scott is the best player in the back end. Bachie has 31⁄2 sacks, 71⁄2 tackles for loss 57 total tackles, four passes broken up and one interception. He can make plays all over the field and had two sacks and 11 total tackles in the loss to Ohio State. Willekes leads the team in sacks with four but had a quiet night at Ohio State with one solo stop and no tackles for loss.
The Spartans could be without Jacub Panasiuk, who went down in the loss to Ohio State.
Scott has two of the team's seven interceptions and fourth on the team in tackles with 34. He is second on the team in solo stops with 26, three behind Bachie.
The No. 1 issue facing the Michigan State's staff is how to get junior kicker Matt Coghlin to rediscover the form and confidence he displayed in his first two seasons. Coghlin made 15 of 19 fieldgoal attempts (78.9%) as a freshman in 2017 and last season improved to 18 of 22 attempts (81.8%). Coghlin this season has made just 11 of 17 attempts (64.7%). Even worse, he has made just 4 of 10 attempts after a 7-for-7 start. Punter Jake Hartbarger has no such issues. The senior is averaging 47.6 yards per punt. He has 12 punts of 50 yards or more and 12 placed inside the opponents' 20.