Jeremy Langford, here celebrating a touchdown against Youngstown State with teammates Jack Conklin (74) and Jack Allen (66), has rushed for more than 100 yards in MSU's last three games. (Dale G. Young / Detroit News)
East Lansing — After Michigan State got done rolling over Illinois last week, coach Mark Dantonio was asked if this season’s offensive line was the best he’s had in East Lansing.
It seemed like a fair question considering Michigan State rushed for 269 yards and junior Jeremy Langford went for more than 100 a third straight game. There was also the fact quarterback Connor Cook rarely faced any real pressure.
While Dantonio was careful not to slight any of the players he’s coached, he agreed this year’s unit has been playing as well as any in the previous six seasons.
And that’s good news for Michigan State, because in the Michigan series, the team that runs better has won 40 of the last 43 games. And through eight weeks, the Spartans hold a 196.5-183.9 edge.
“As an offensive line here at Michigan State, we want to be known for playing physical football,” Spartans senior guard Blake Treadwell said. “Football is a physical game as we all know, so that’s what we strive to be, physical.”
It’s been something the Spartans have been able to do more this season mainly because they’re healthy. Over the last two years, the line has become a revolving door with players at every position going in and out.
While that led to inconsistent play, it has helped create an interesting dynamic. Instead of sticking with one five-man unit, seven to eight players are rotating on a regular basis.
“During practice, the ones during this team period will be this mixture, the ones in the next team period will be this next mixture, so that’s real helpful,” offensive line coach Mark Staten said. “The guys ... they’re all healthy, they’re all back. So we continue to mix, we can also work those combinations. So that’s been real helpful.”
Of the eight players who have seen significant playing time, seven have started and none fewer than six times. There have been four starting combinations and none has shown any drop-off.
“Thank God nobody has had major injuries,” Treadwell said. “Compared to last year, a lot more guys have played. I remember Coach ‘D’ brought up the stat of how many snaps I think our eight-man rotation has, and it’s very astounding to me how many guys have had minutes to play.
“So I think we’re a lot more jelled together as a unit.”
It’s also the reason Michigan State’s offense looks different than the first few weeks of the season, when it managed one offensive touchdown in three of the first four games.
But the linemen aren’t about to rest on their laurels.
“I still make a lot of mistakes,” said center Jack Allen, whom Staten believes is playing at an all-Big Ten level. “So I’m trying to shore them up and make less. It’s just technical stuff, keeping my base more and using my hands more than I am right now.”
And, Allen realizes the line is only doing its job.
“No one’s ever heard of the O-line,” he said. “They just look at all the fat guys up front. … There’s always haters or doubters.”