Michigan State coach Mark Dantonio gives his thoughts on his team's performance in Saturday's loss. Matt Charboneau, The Detroit News
East Lansing — It’s not the sole answer to what ails Michigan State, but there’s little doubt the mounting injuries are having a significant impact on the Spartans’ production.
It was at the center of the problems again on Saturday as Northwestern came to Spartan Stadium and walked away with a victory for the third straight time, this one a 29-19 win after Michigan State’s offense continued to be stuck in the mud for long stretches.
A big reason, it seems, is the players who are missing or are limited to some extent.
“I'm never going to stand up here and make excuses to say we should've not have won the game because we had too many injuries,” Michigan State coach Mark Dantonio said. “I think we still had opportunities to win the game even at the end of the game.”
That’s true, the offense couldn’t execute. How much of that is on injuries? It’s hard to say, but the Spartans were without running back LJ Scott (ankle) for the third straight game while it was the first full game without wide receiver Cody White (hand) and receiver Jalen Nailor missed his second game. Right guard Kevin Jarvis (ankle) also missed his second straight game while guard David Beedle got hurt on the opening drive and missed the rest of the game.
On top of that, wide receiver Darrell Stewart Jr. (ankle) was limited, as was left tackle Cole Chewins, though he saw his most significant action of the season.
“You know, guys get opportunities to step up,” co-offensive coordinator Dave Warner said. “Darrell didn't practice a lot this week and had a couple of busts out there because he was not practicing during the week. That really set him back a little bit. Whoever steps on the field has got to play, bottom line.”
But missing two starting receivers — White and Stewart — had an impact on Felton Davis, who still managed a couple of touchdowns despite getting hounded. But he sees the offense pressing, trying to make up for the loss in personnel.
“Sometimes I feel like (quarterback Brian Lewerke) puts pressure on himself to make plays,” Davis said. “It’s also kind of hard when the O-line shuffles around and is not able to gel as a unit. He’s not able to go through his reads.”
The rushing attack, one that has been inconsistent all year, has also suffered. The Spartans gained 96 yards but 48 came on one play from Davis — a receiver. Getting Scott back might help, but the offensive line needs help, too.
“LJ is critical to winning, and he's a really dynamic back that we need,” sophomore running back Connor Heyward said. “Me kind of playing off him and him playing off me, so often we put teams on their heels. LJ is a very good back and hopefully he can get back as soon as possible.”
Sophomore wide receiver Cam Chambers was back after missing last week’s game against Central Michigan and made the most of his opportunity, catching a career-high five passes for 82 yards. He entered the game with just five catches in his career.
“It's challenging,” Chambers said of being patient. “But it's things you learn, like to battle adversity and become a man and stand tall and just wait your turn, and you'll be ready to go when the opportunity presents itself.”
Redshirt freshman C.J. Hayes had his first catch, a 13-yarder, while senior Brandon Sowards had a career-best three catches.
Sophomore kicker Matt Coghlin established a school record for consecutive field goals by making his 16th straight on a 25-yarder with 2:50 left in the second quarter. He made his 15th in a row on a 27-yarder in the first quarter. He surpassed Brett Swenson, who made 15 straight in 2008.
… Freshman punter Tyler Hunt placed a career-high five of his seven punts inside the 20 and had a career-long 63-yarder.
… Junior defensive end Kenny Willekes tied a season high with eight tackles, including 1.5 tackles for loss. He now has a team-high eight TFLs this season.