Spartan punter Mike Sadler scampers for a first down on a trick play that allowed MSU to kick a final field goal in its victory over Iowa last weekend. (Dale G. Young / Detroit News)
East Lansing — One of the signature plays for Michigan State this season was punter Mike Sadler’s 25-yard run on fourth down on the first play of the fourth quarter last weekend against Iowa.
It led to a field goal that put the Spartans up two scores and essentially put the game out of reach.
The name of the play? “Hey Diddle Diddle,” after the nursery rhyme. And as coach Mark Dantonio explained Tuesday, it was finished by “sending Mike Sadler up the middle.”
But what might have been lost on that play was the fact the special teams continued to make strides and was as important as any phase of the game.
“Our unit is vastly improved,” Dantonio said.
Sadler has been one of Michigan State’s best weapons and is again among the Big Ten leaders. He is averaging 41.7 yards a punt and has put 14 of 30 punts inside the 20-yard line.
“Sadler has been tremendous,” Dantonio said. “I’m not even talking about the fake, I’m talking about his punch down inside the 10. We’re getting field position, and it’s tough to go the length of the field if you have the field position.
“So those are positive things for us, and I think that’s all related to special teams.”
The Spartans also have seen a spark since moving Macgarrett Kings Jr. in to return punts, and R.J. Shelton nearly broke his first kick return for a score.
And since taking over in Week 4 as the kicker, freshman Michael Geiger’s only miss came on his first attempt against Iowa. Geiger made his next four.
“Looked like it was going right down the middle and then it tailed,” Dantonio said of Geiger’s miss. “But the other four were on target, and I think that’s tremendous for a young freshman with his first real start in a big-time game that means a lot.”
Cook settles in
Heading into the Iowa game, there still was plenty of speculation whether Connor Cook was solid as Michigan State’s No. 1 quarterback. That ended after the sophomore threw for 277 yards and a pair of touchdowns in the victory.
Dantonio said he doesn’t see a scenario at this point where he will go with another quarterback, even in certain packages.
“I think right now we’re going to go with one quarterback,” he said. “I feel like Connor played well. We’re asking our quarterback to create. I think he created. I thought he threw the ball very effectively. He had a couple runs; he’s a threat to run.
“With that in mind, I think we’ll just go with that direction here.”
Sophomore Jack Allen is listed as the starter at center this week with junior Travis Jackson as the backup. Jackson has been the starter but Allen, who started at center and guard last season, took over when Jackson was hurt a few weeks ago.
Dantonio, however, said the players are close, and considering the way the Spartans are rotating linemen, both will be counted on.
“I feel like they’re both starters for us,” Dantonio said. “But if they call to me and ask who’s listed as the starter right now, I listed Jack. But Travis can play there, Jack can play guard. They’re really interchangeable.”
Sophomore defensive tackle Lawrence Thomas hasn’t played this season but made the trip and dressed last weekend. Dantonio said he will be evaluated this week to see if he’s ready to play against Indiana.
“We’ll start doing a little something and we’re going to find out just how fast he can progress,” Dantonio said. “Can he play this week or not? I won’t know that probably through Thursday’s practice. He may. He’s in pads.”
... Defensive tackle Damon Knoxwas knocked out of the Iowa game in the third quarter when he was hit in the ankle by a cut block from behind. Dantonio said he expected Knox to be able to practice after running some last weekend.