EAST LANSING, Mich. – News that Michigan State has lost redshirt freshman Brian Lewerke for the season with a broken tibia just adds another layer to the Spartans’ season of unknown at quarterback.
Head coach Mark Dantonio announced Lewerke’s injury Sunday night during a teleconference with reporters. Michigan’s Jabrill Peppers sacked Lewerke in the fourth quarter of Michigan’s 32-23 win at Spartan Stadium, causing the injury. Lewerke had moved to his left out of the pocket attempting to find a receiver on a fourth-down play when Peppers caught up to him. It was a clean hit but Lewerke awkwardly went to the ground.
Lewerke does not require surgery. His rehab process is expected to take 12 weeks, which will have him ready for spring practice. Lewerke, Damion Terry and Messiah deWeaver will be competing for next year’s starting job.
Still to be determined is this season’s starter for the final four games.
“To me the future is next week,” Dantonio said. “I mean, it really is because we’re going to continue to try to win football games, and whoever gives us the best chance to do that is who we’re going to play. In the meantime, guys that are younger, they’re getting opportunities in practice and they may get opportunities in games if things dictate that.”
The younger guys include deWeaver, a 4-star recruit who has been doing what most freshmen quarterbacks do their first year: running the scout-team offense and getting a few reps running Michigan State’s playbook. The other candidate for the No. 3 position is Colar Kuhns, a third-year walk-on. How much Michigan State wishes to preserve deWeaver’s redshirt status will determine the third-string quarterback.
That’s a contingency Dantonio will plan for, but he’d rather just stick to playing fifth-year senior Tyler O’Connor and Terry.
O’Connor has started six of the team’s eight games, including the Michigan loss. Lewerke started against Northwestern and Maryland. Terry has played sparingly in three games this season. He didn’t complete any of the four pass attempts he had in one series against Michigan, although he rushed four times for 11 yards and had the Spartans in scoring position. Michael Geiger missed a 34-yard field goal after the drive stalled in the red zone.
Dantonio used three quarterbacks against Michigan, saying later that he wanted to make sure that Terry and Lewerke got a taste of what it was like to play in the rivalry game. Dantonio’s reasoning was that the even a little experience could be helpful to them in the future. He sent Terry into the game in the fourth quarter ahead of Lewerke because of the work Terry had done during practice.
“I thought he showed a good grasp of where to go with the ball,” Dantonio said. “The progressions, the reads. He gives you another guy that can create opportunities to run the football. He can run the football. He showed that the other day. I think he gives you that type of guy, and he’s got some game experience.”
Dantonio has kept mum about who starts ever since he pulled O’Connor in favor of Terry in the fourth quarter against Brigham Young on Oct. 8. Dantonio said then he was looking to give the offense a spark. Lewerke started the next week against Northwestern, but O’Connor replaced him in the third quarter. Lewerke again started against Maryland and played the entire game in a 28-17 loss.
“I thought Brian came in, he’s progressively gotten better in terms of his experiences and his read,” Dantonio said. “I think he’s talented, I think he’s got great arm strength. He can certainly move with the football and make plays, and really be sort of dynamic, I think, in his ability to run with the football at times and get out of problems. He shows toughness.”
Lewerke was also prone to the kinds of mistakes any first-time starter is going to make.
“The play gets called, he calls it wrong and they put the formation to the boundary rather than to the field,” Dantonio said. “There’s things like that that you have to be able to continue progressing through. That’s the natural progression for a young player.”
None of the quarterbacks on the roster at the beginning of the season had much playing experience. The experience they do have has come from this season.
O’Connor has completed 98 of 163 passes for 1,341 yards, 12 touchdowns and seven interceptions this season. He threw for three touchdowns against Furman, Indiana and Northwestern but O’Connor also turned the ball over at least once in five games. He threw an interception late in the first half against Michigan. The Wolverines turned that takeaway into a field goal on the last play of the half and a 27-10 lead.
O’Connor still believes he can do the job if he starts this week at Illinois – or anytime the rest of the season.
“I’m going to fight for every single thing that happens and for this team,” said O’Connor after the loss to Michigan. “I do understand. Coach D told me today that we’ve got to get these young guys opportunities in pressure situations. I completely understand where he’s coming from as far as getting other guys reps and things like that.
“I’ll do everything I can for this team, for this program to put us in the best position to win.”
Kevin Goheen covers Michigan State for Landof10.com. Follow him on Twitter at @CincyGoGo