5 players to watch for Michigan State football against Michigan

Spartans face first road game in trip to Ann Arbor

Quarterback Brian Lewerke #14 of the Michigan State Spartans passes the ball against the Iowa Hawkeyes during the first half at Spartan Stadium on September 30, 2017 in East Lansing, Michigan. (Photo by Duane Burleson/Getty Images)
Quarterback Brian Lewerke #14 of the Michigan State Spartans passes the ball against the Iowa Hawkeyes during the first half at Spartan Stadium on September 30, 2017 in East Lansing, Michigan. (Photo by Duane Burleson/Getty Images)

ANN ARBOR, Mich. – Michigan State is off to a strong start through one-third of the regular season after bouncing back from its first loss to beat Iowa at home.

The Spartans will now hit the road for the first time and travel to Ann Arbor for a night game at Michigan Stadium. It will be Michigan State's toughest test so far, but it's also a chance to prove last season was an outlier.

Michigan is a strong favorite, so the Spartans can't afford to make many mistakes on either side of the ball.

Here are five players to watch as Michigan State looks to pull off an upset.

QB Brian Lewerke

Even though Michigan replaced 10 defensive starters this offseason, nobody has been able to crack Don Brown's defense so far. How can the Spartans change that? Brian Lewerke is the key.

Michigan hasn't faced a true dual-threat quarterback yet this season, and that's exactly what Mark Dantonio has.

Lewerke has been efficient in the passing game, completing 63.2 percent of his throws for 963 yards, eight touchdowns and two interceptions in four games. He's done a nice job taking care of the ball this season, which will be critical Saturday. The Spartans can't afford to lose the turnover battle as an underdog.

Michigan's greatest strength is on the defensive line, where Chase Winovich and Rashan Gary pose a dangerous pass rushing threat on the edges. Lewerke's mobility could help him escape that pressure and use Brown's aggressiveness against him.

Lewerke averages 6.5 yards per carry and has rushed for two touchdowns. He's already recorded a 61-yard run for a touchdown this season, and those are the types of big plays Michigan State needs to score against Michigan.

LB Joe Bachie

Michigan State has leaned heavily on its defense this season, and Joe Bachie has emerged as the leader from his linebacker position.

Bachie leads the Spartans with 34 tackles and four tackles for loss, so he's been all over the field against the rushing and short passing game.

Harbaugh features a run-first offense and loves to utilize his tight ends over the middle of the field, so Michigan State's linebackers will be tested. Bachie will be asked to lead the charge against the running game and stop the Wolverines from picking Michigan State apart with short passes, as they did against Purdue.

Bachie wasn't a huge factor in Michigan State's loss to Notre Dame -- by far the best offense the Spartans have seen this season. Dantonio needs Bachie to avoid another quiet performance and make plays on the ball against Michigan.

RB L.J. Scott

It's strange to see a Mark Dantonio team struggle at the running back position, but L.J. Scott, Madre London and Gerald Holmes haven't gotten the job done this season.

Scott has earned a heavy majority of the carries this year, with 58 touches to just 55 combined for London and Holmes. But Scott hasn't been very effective, averaging just 3.7 yards per carry.

In his first two seasons, Scott averaged more than 5 yards per carry and scored 17 touchdowns. He fell just short of 1,000 rushing yards last season, averaging 5.4 yards per carry.

But this season has been a struggle. Not only is Scott's average suffering, he's also lost three fumbles in four games. In the season opener against Bowling Green, Scott lost the ball twice, including once on the goal line.

His latest fumble came against Notre Dame and took away what would have been a touchdown.

Scott has the talent to be a fearsome running back in the Big Ten, even behind Michigan State's inconsistent offensive line. He needs to get back to his old ways for Michigan State to have a chance.

WR Felton Davis III

If Michigan State has one offensive player who can explode against Michigan, it's Felton Davis III, who is coming off the best game of his career against Iowa.

Davis, a junior wide receiver, has already surpassed his career totals in catches, yards and touchdowns. He leads the Spartans with 21 catches for 256 yards and four scores.

While the overall numbers are excellent, Davis really demonstrated his potential in last weekend's win over Iowa. Davis caught nine passes for 114 yards and two touchdowns in a game that featured very little offense.

He also scored a pair of touchdowns in the opener against Bowling Green.

Davis has to have another breakout game against Michigan if the Spartans hope to sustain drives.

LB Chris Frey

Michigan has plenty of weaknesses on offense, but none are more obvious than the line's inability to protect the quarterback.

In its last game against Purdue, Michigan allowed four sacks to a team that had one sack total in its first three games. Michigan has been especially susceptible when opposing defenses bring an extra blitzer, and that's where Chris Frey comes in.

Frey leads Michigan State with 2.5 sacks and four quarterback hits this season. He's a hard-hitter who will make Michigan pay if it doesn't have a tight end or running back to pick him up on a block.

Frey specializes in pass rushing, so he'll have to make the most of his opportunities against Michigan's run-first offense. With John O'Korn starting for the Wolverines, Frey also has to help Bachie defend against the scramble.