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Sports >  WSU football

Michigan State offense will be led by inconsistent first-year QB Brian Lewerke in Holiday Bowl

Michigan State quarterback Brian Lewerke, who has had up and down performances this season, dives in for a first down as Rutgers defensive back K.J. Gray tries to stop him in a game Nov. 25. (Julio Cortez / Associated Press)
Michigan State quarterback Brian Lewerke, who has had up and down performances this season, dives in for a first down as Rutgers defensive back K.J. Gray tries to stop him in a game Nov. 25. (Julio Cortez / Associated Press)

How unthinkable is this?

Luke Falk – the all-time passing leader in Pac-12 history – could be the “other quarterback” in the Holiday Bowl against Michigan State.

Explosive and prolific as they are, Falk and Washington State’s Air Raid offense are a known commodity. Even against a stout MSU defense, the Cougars should get their points and yards.

That’s not true of Michigan State sophomore Brian Lewerke, a first-year starter who is anything but predictable.

Scintillating in one game and stumbling in the next, Lewerke is the wild card in an intriguing matchup with the Cougars defense. Which version shows up could have a big impact on Thursday’s game at SDCCU Stadium in San Diego.

Full of potential after playing in four games last year, Lewerke drew rare preseason praise from 11th-year coach Mark Dantonio, who compared him to MSU standouts Kirk Cousins and Connor Cook.

“He’s got a great arm, he’s very cool under pressure,” Dantonio said. “He knows our players very well, knows things schematically. … He has all the attributes that we need to be an outstanding, championship-type quarterback.”

Backed by a tough MSU defense and a solid running game, the 6-foot-3, 212-pounder from Phoenix is more of a game manager than Falk.

For the season, Lewerke has completed 233 passes out of 396 attempts, for 58.8 percent, with 2,580 yards, 17 touchdowns and seven interceptions.

He’s also a good runner, with 486 yards and five scores.

Those are solid numbers, but they mean little because Lewerke seldom has an average game in this season. Then again, MSU’s offense isn’t even average – the Spartans rank 91st in total offense and 105th in scoring offense with just 23 points a game (WSU averages 31).

In the first quarter of his first big game, a 38-18 loss to Notre Dame, he turned a third-and-1 quarterback sneak into a 52-yard run to set up a TD pass. A few series later, he fumbled at his own 23 while scrambling.

Playing from behind all day, Lewerke was 31 of 51 for 340 yards, but MSU never got back in the game.

MSU (9-3) won the next four games, but surpassed 20 points in just one of them. However, one was a 14-10 win at Michigan, where Lewerke managed just 94 yards passing but ran for 64 and a TD.

Lewerke can fling it too. His best games came back to back: a triple-overtime, 39-31 loss at Northwestern in which he was 39 of 57 for 445 yards and four TDs, and a 27-24 upset of No. 7 Penn State that saw Lewerke complete 33 of 56 passes for 400 yards and two more scores.

The next week, Lewerke’s arm was in ice, the product of 113 passes in two games.

“Am I comfortable throwing that many times?” Dantonio said after the Penn State game. “As long as we don’t have a lot of interceptions, yeah.”

A week later, the Spartans crashed 48-3 at Ohio State and Lewerke was 18 of 36 for only 131 yards and two interceptions.

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