The Michigan State Spartans extended the Big Ten's early dominance in the bowl season Thursday with a commanding 42-17 victory over the Pac-12's Washington State in the Holiday Bowl at SDCCU Stadium in San Diego.
Michigan State completed its turnaround from last year's 3-9 effort with its 10th win of the 2017 campaign thanks to an impressive performance from quarterback Brian Lewerke. The sophomore threw for 213 yards, ran for 73 more and connected with Cody White twice and Felton Davis III once on touchdown passes.
The Spartans propelled the Big Ten to 3-0 in the bowl season with five games remaining.
The matchup to watch coming into Thursday's showdown featured Washington State's passing attack going against Michigan State's secondary. The Cougars were in second in the country with 374.8 passing yards per game, while the Spartans were 31st in the nation with 196.5 passing yards allowed per game.
However, the highly anticipated clash lost some luster before the game when Fox Sports 1's broadcast noted Washington State quarterback Luke Falk wouldn't play after he was seen with a cast on his left hand (h/t Chris Solari of the Detroit Free Press).
What's more, Washington State's top two receivers—Tavares Martin Jr. and Isaiah Johnson-Mack—were out with injuries, per Stefanie Loh of the Seattle Times, meaning signal-caller Tyler Hilinski faced Michigan State's formidable defense in his first career start without a full arsenal of weapons.
The last thing the Cougars wanted to do was fall behind, but that is exactly what they did.
Michigan State used stereotypical Big Ten power football for the first touchdown with a 16-play, 81-yard drive that lasted more than nine minutes and ended with a connection from Lewerke to White. The initial strategy forced Washington State's defense into the box to deal with the physical attack, and Lewerke made it pay with a 49-yard touchdown strike to Davis on a speed-option fake.
Davis was a problem for the Washington State secondary a number of times, as the junior exploded for 118 yards despite an early drop on fourth down.
Ryan Schuiling of The Team 92.1 noted Michigan State has more Davis performances to come:
He wasn't the only one who exploited the Cougars defense. Touchdown runs from LJ Scott helped make it 21-3 at the half and 42-17 late in the fourth, and he powered his way for 110 rushing yards against an overmatched Washington State front seven.
Michigan State's offensive dominance put the game away before Hilinski responded with two touchdown passes to Davontavean Martin. Hilinski finished with 263 passing yards, two touchdown throws and one interception, but the vast majority of his production was in garbage time.
He also didn't receive any help from the rushing attack considering Washington State finished with 24 yards on eight carries.
The only brief downside for the Spartans was the fact Lewerke temporarily left in the second half after absorbing a hard hit to the head, but backup Damion Terry picked up right where he left off with a touchdown run on a speed-option keeper.
The Spartans hit on all cylinders Thursday and will take plenty of momentum into the offseason before a critical 2018 campaign. They will once again be tested in a deep Big Ten East featuring Ohio State, Penn State and Michigan, but the potential return of Scott and Davis means the offense Washington State couldn't stop will be back for more.