EAST LANSING, Mich. (AP) — This season has had its ups and downs for Michigan State quarterback Brian Lewerke.
All of that may be forgotten if he can guide the Spartans to another victory over Michigan.
"It's a rivalry game," Lewerke said. "You know it. You feel it throughout the week of practice."
Lewerke came all the way from Arizona to play for Michigan State, but by now, he's had plenty of exposure to the Spartans' biggest rivalry. Saturday's matchup with the sixth-ranked Wolverines will be his third appearance against Michigan, and the result could go a long way toward determining how this season is remembered for Lewerke and 24th-ranked Michigan State.
Lewerke led the Spartans to 10 victories last year as a sophomore. He threw for 20 touchdowns and seven interceptions and reached 400 yards passing on a couple occasions, including in a victory over Penn State. Michigan State had high expectations for 2018 thanks to a wealth of returning starters — including Lewerke, who seemed to be on the path to type of success that Kirk Cousins and Connor Cook had for the Spartans before him.
By that standard, this season has left a bit to be desired. Lewerke has already matched last season's interception total with seven and thrown for only eight touchdowns. Michigan State has the nation's No. 1 rushing defense, but the Spartans have already lost twice and have plenty of issues offensively. Their blocking has been substandard at times and the running game underwhelming. Injuries — including in the receiving corps — have been a factor.
"I would be out there, and I wouldn't even know what group of receivers were coming out there," Lewerke said. "I just had to figure it out in the huddle."
The Spartans overcame their flaws last weekend in a 21-17 victory at Penn State. Lewerke attempted 52 passes and completed only 24, but he threw for 259 yards and two touchdowns, including the game winner to Felton Davis with 19 seconds left.
Now Lewerke faces a Michigan team with the nation's No. 1 pass defense. The Wolverines held Wisconsin to only seven completions last week .
"They are a very aggressive defense," Lewerke said. "It will take preparation, preparing for the blitzes, make sure you see them coming and make sure you know how to pick them up and change protection and stuff like that. Just get the ball out quickly."
Lewerke threw for only 94 yards last year in a 14-10 win at Michigan, but he passed for a touchdown and ran for one. In 2016, the Wolverines beat Michigan State, but Lewerke came on late in that game and gave the Spartans a lift by throwing for 100 yards and a TD.
"He's good on his feet," Michigan safety Tyree Kinnel said. "He throws a good ball, quick release. I think this is his third year in the system. He's really comfortable back there, you can just tell watching the film. He's going to be a challenge for us."
The Wolverines don't need to be reminded how dangerous Michigan State is. The Spartans have won eight of the last 10 games in this series.
This feels like another year in which winner of this game could go on to a special season. For Lewerke and the Spartans, there's still plenty of time to finish strong — but a victory this weekend is crucial.
"It's just a different feel," Lewerke said. "It's a different way of preparing, I guess, because you know how much this game means to everyone."
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