Get to know the opponent: an MSU reporter's take on Saturday's game

Everything you need to know about the MSU Spartans from The State News' football reporter Jon LeBlanc

Football beat reporters from The State Press and Michigan State University's The State News have teamed up to provide insight on the game between the Sun Devils and No. 15 Michigan State on Saturday in Tempe. Read Jon LeBlanc's interview of Sebastian Emanuel here and his interview with LeBlanc below: 

The MSU Spartans have an NFL style running back, a Pinnacle High School quarterback and 19 starters returning from last year's Holiday Bowl team. The Spartan are coming off an upset scare against Utah State University where they were able to seal the victory 38-31 on a late touchdown. 

Michigan State almost lost their first game against Utah State last weekend, what happened in that game that made people freak out a little?

Michigan State usually has these kinds of first games of the season, where everybody is expecting them to try and blow their opponent away. Their first game is really where they are trying to figure things out themselves and they kind of kept things close, but Utah State's offense really kept MSU’s defense on their heels throughout the entire game. 

Joe Bachie, junior captain linebacker, even said post game that they were definitely fatigued out there. Also, the offensive line didn't look particularly good. On the third drive in they had to switch things up, so they moved junior center Tyler Higby out to left tackle, took sophomore right tackle Jordan Reid out and put sophomore Luke Campbell back in. If the offensive line doesn’t improve, I can definitely see it being a problem come Saturday.

Michigan State has continued to be a top-25 team, how have they been able to maintain their status with the style of football they play?

It’s kind of funny because I think they either play down to their opponent or up to their opponent. MSU Head Coach Mark Dantonio usually gets two, three and maybe a couple of four star recruits. They look for hard workers and then they mold them into what they want. 

For example, take junior defensive end Kenny Willekes. He broke out last year out of nowhere and guess what, he was a walk-on. There’s a lot of people like that on Michigan State’s team, which also helps chemistry-wise. Being around this team so far, it’s probably one of the closer teams I’ve seen. From the top down, everybody seems together, and they are all leaders.

Michigan State is a run heavy team, how has senior LJ Scott formed into the mold of an MSU running back? 

LJ Scott did kind of a Le'Veon Bell running type move last week where he kind of hesitated and waited for holes to open, and although it was a screen pass he still ran for a 32-yard gain. Last year he had issues with fumbles, which raised questions about whether he should play. He hasn’t gone as far up in terms of his potential since his freshman season when he scored a game-winning touchdown against Iowa in the Big Ten Championship game, but I think he definitely has potential to grow. 

It was kind of a surprise to see him come back again for his senior year, especially with Connor Heyward sort of emerging last week when he got two touchdowns. I think that might put some pressure on Scott and might be able to motivate him and keep him on his toes.

How does that open the offense for senior quarterback Brian Lewerke?

It opens the world for him, especially on those run-pass options. If it's a convincing fake to Scott or Heyward, he can find three wide receivers, and MSU has three pretty good receivers: Felton Davis III, Cody White and Darrell Stewart Jr. The way that Scott and Heyward can draw the defense with their effectiveness out of the back field and their catching ability, it's able to open things for Lewerke down field. 

Looking on film, he’s able to get a lot of deep balls and stand on his own, but he has to improve on downfield accuracy a little bit. His nickname on the team is White Lighting — in the second game of the year against Western Michigan last year, he broke off for a 61-yard touchdown, which is a program record since the early 1970’s. He’s not afraid to take hits either, unlike some NFL quarterbacks. Passing wise, downfield accuracy definitely has opened the running game for himself because he’s a pretty fast quarterback for his size and you always got to keep a spy on him. 

Lewerke’s turnover problems, how can that help ASU during Saturday's game?

Lewerke’s fumble last Saturday was questionable and he will definitely tell you that. From initial reaction, it looked like it was more an incomplete pass than a fumble. He does have the tendency to make the incorrect read, which is kind of an issue. Like most quarterbacks, if Lewerke is not given enough time he will make a panic throw and try to make a quick read and that's definitely something to watch out for. 

What do you think will be MSU's game plan against ASU sophomore wide receiver N'Keal Harry?

We were talking with secondary coach Paul Haynes yesterday and it sounds like they are going to try and put junior Justin Layne out there and then they are going to try and help over the top. Also having Khari Willis or David Dowell in the right position while Layne handles all the physical stuff to try and catch Harry off guard. 

What is the biggest challenge for Big Ten Conference teams when they come play at Sun Devil Stadium?

It’s a combination of the heat and the time change, which Coach Haynes said could affect how the players sleep and how they eat. It will be a factor before the game, but once they get on the field they will be fine.

Do you have any predictions for the score of Saturday's game? 

I think it will be a tad bit closer, so I’ll go with 31-28 in favor of Michigan State, only because I do think Lewerke is very hyped up to be back and play in his hometown with his friends and family there. He could get a little too excited, and the first couple of drives might not exactly look the best, but I think he will eventually settle down and be able to go back to such a familiar atmosphere in a familiar place. If Lewerke wasn’t a Phoenix native, I would say that ASU would come out on top.

Editors note: This interview has been edited for clarity and length. 

Reach the reporter at or follow @SebastianEman5 on Twitter. 

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