Arizona State faces No. 18 Michigan State’s top run defense

Field Level Media

September 10, 2019 at 7:49 pm.

One team is struggling to establish its offensive identity, while the other looks like it finally has.

That’s the dynamic this Saturday when No. 18 Michigan State hosts Arizona State in East Lansing, Mich. The Sun Devils (2-0) are coming off a lackluster effort against FCS foe Sacramento State while the Spartans (2-0) are still reveling in a 51-point outburst against Western Michigan.

For Michigan State, it was a long time coming.

Last season, the Spartans averaged just 18.7 points a game — 116th in the nation. In a season-opening victory over Tulsa, things didn’t look much better as the offense managed just one touchdown and four field goals, three of them on drives that started in Tulsa territory.

After that game, coach Mark Dantonio challenged his players and questioned their effort. It all paid off against Western Michigan.

“If you feel that was fire last week, you should have been at the team meeting I guess,” a much calmer Dantonio said. “Sometimes you just have to deal with the brutal reality of things, and you know, you have to call them as you see them and that’s the way I called it.”

It’s hard to call the one-week turnaround anything less than remarkable.

Fifth-year senior Brian Lewerke threw for 314 yards and three touchdowns while fifth-year senior wide receiver Darrell Stewart had 10 receptions for a career-high 185 yards with a 42-yard touchdown. And redshirt freshman running back Elijah Collins exploded for 192 yards on 17 carries, further establishing himself as the team’s No. 1 back.

“I think when your quarterback is playing well, good things happen, and he’s played well both games and he needs to continue to play well,” Dantonio said. “We ran the ball much more effectively and got what we wanted out of that, threw the ball, as well, a lot of production. The zero sacks, no penalties (on offense), those are great things, as well. You can point to those things. If those things happen, you’re going to be productive because you don’t put yourself behind the 8-ball.

Arizona State, meanwhile, enters the game ranked 95th in the nation in rushing offense through two weeks, averaging 131 yards a game. That’s not exactly the best matchup against the top rushing defense in the nation.

“I love this challenge,” Sun Devils offensive coordinator Rob Likens said. “This is gonna be awesome. We get to go up to Michigan State. Nobody thinks we’re any good on offense and they’re the No. 1 rushing defense in the country and we can’t run the football. Doesn’t get any better than that. You know what I mean? Let’s go.”

Despite the offensive struggles, freshman quarterback Jayden Daniels has played well, completing 62.8 percent of his passes for 588 yards, three touchdowns and no interceptions and running for 38 yards and a score.

He’ll be trying to build on those numbers against a formidable foe.

“Now we’re gonna play a legitimate football team,” Arizona State coach Herm Edwards said. “They’re big time. They’re good and they’re gonna stop you. You can do everything right and they’re gonna beat you and you can’t worry about that because that’s gonna happen.”