EAST LANSING, Mich. (AP)

This season has had its ups and downs for Michigan State quarterback Brian Lewerke.

gettyimages 1029583570 21 Lewerke On The Spot Against Michigans Tough Defense

TEMPE, AZ – SEPTEMBER 08: (L-R) Khari Willis #27, Brian Lewerke #14, Joe Bachie #35, David Dowell #6 and basketball head coach Mike Izzo of the Michigan State Spartans walk out to mid field for the coin toss to the college football game against the Arizona State Sun Devils at Sun Devil Stadium on September 8, 2018 in Tempe, Arizona. (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)

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.

gettyimages 4600562091 Lewerke On The Spot Against Michigans Tough Defense

PASADENA, CA – JANUARY 01: Michigan State Spartans head coach Mark Dantonio and quarterback Connor Cook #18 celebrate with the Rose Bowl Game trophy after defeating the Stanford Cardinal 24-20 in the 100th Rose Bowl Game presented by Vizio at the Rose Bowl on January 1, 2014 in Pasadena, California. (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)

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 .

gettyimages 10430663082 Lewerke On The Spot Against Michigans Tough Defense

EAST LANSING, MI – SEPTEMBER 29: Brian Lewerke #14 of the Michigan State Spartans celebrates a 31-20 win over the Central Michigan Chippewas at Spartan Stadium on September 29, 2018 in East Lansing, Michigan. (Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images)

“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.

gettyimages 1033378180 Lewerke On The Spot Against Michigans Tough Defense

TEMPE, AZ – SEPTEMBER 08: Quarterback Brian Lewerke #14 of the Michigan State Spartans drops back to pass during the college football game against the Arizona State Sun Devils at Sun Devil Stadium on September 8, 2018 in Tempe, Arizona. The Sun Devils defeated the Spartans 16-13. (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)

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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