No. 18 Michigan State to test-drive new offense

Field Level Media

August 29, 2019 at 8:43 pm.

After the worst offensive performance in his 12 seasons as Michigan State’s coach, Mark Dantonio knew he had to make some changes.

The Spartans had one of the worst offenses in the nation in 2018, averaging just 18.7 points and 342.1 yards per game. That led to changes in the coaching staff, but unlike at most programs, Dantonio didn’t bring in new faces. Instead, he simply reshuffled the deck, shifting his coaches around to try to breathe life into the offense.

Those changes will be revealed Friday night when No. 18 Michigan State hosts Tulsa in the season opener for both teams. As for what those changes will be, Dantonio isn’t giving any hints.

“Won’t talk about scheme,” Dantonio said. “We won’t be running the T.”

Dantonio was joking but trying to figure out how things will be different under coordinator Brad Salem, the former quarterbacks coach, isn’t simple. Salem hasn’t called plays since he was the head coach at Division III Augustana from 2005-09. In 2010, he became Michigan State’s running backs coach before taking over quarterbacks in 2013.

Michigan States does return quarterback Brian Lewerke, a senior with a 15-10 record in 25 career starts. He slumped last season, throwing eight touchdown passes while being intercepted 11 times.

“We will be who we are,” Dantonio said. “Obviously, after the first game, you make some decisions and you move on from there personnel-wise, what you’re doing. There’s always a sense of change as you go through the season depending on everything that’s going on.”

The offensive performance is critical for Michigan State as it looks to rebound from a 7-6 season. Just a marginal offensive improvement could go a long way in the Big Ten East as the Spartans return the core of one of the best defenses in the nation.

Last season, Michigan State was No. 1 in rushing defense and ranked in the top 10 in total defense and scoring defense. That unit could be even better this season.

For Tulsa, coach Philip Montgomery is trying to turn things around after the Golden Hurricane managed just five wins in the past two seasons. Getting things going against a team with a new offensive scheme has its challenges.

“They have all the same (coaches), yet they’re just all in different spots,” Montgomery said.

“So trying to gauge exactly what they’re going to do offensively, whether they’re going to be a heavy 12-personnel team or a 21 personnel team … are they going to try to spread it out a little bit more? We’ve got to work all those scenarios in there.

“I’m sure they’re establishing their identity of what they want to be on offense, but from a preparation standpoint, it makes it a little bit more difficult.”

Tulsa is hoping its running game is good enough to penetrate the Michigan State defense.

Tulsa returns its top two running backs, Shamari Brooks and Corey Taylor II. Brooks ran for 967 yards on 229 carries last season, while Taylor gained 846 yards on 178 carries.

“I believe over this offseason we’ve definitely developed and just worked on our craft a ton,” Taylor said. “And with the offensive line that we have, those are great guys that we have blocking for us up front. So, I think 100 (yards) apiece a game and 5 a carry at least is pretty reasonable.”