MSU coach Mark Dantonio on facing Ohio State The Detroit News
East Lansing — A year ago, the question was whether Spartans running back LJ Scott would opt for pro football.
Now, thoughts are less lofty. Scott and Michigan State coach Mark Dantonio will decide if 2018 becomes a redshirt season and Scott opts for a fifth year in 2019.
“We have to see where he’s at in terms of his injury and sort of go from there,” Dantonio said Tuesday as the Spartans pondered Saturday's noon game against Ohio State at Spartan Stadium.
Scott has played in only four games this season because of a leg injury that hasn’t been explained in any medical detail. He has carried the ball 55 times for 180 yards and no touchdowns.
He had nearly 2,600 yards rushing and 25 touchdowns during his first three seasons with the Spartans. But his senior season, which followed after he decided against the NFL, has been one of heartache for him and for a team that hoped for a flourish.
"There’s a possibility of redshirting him,” said Dantonio, explaining the obvious — that one more game appearance cancels any such options. “We’ll see how it all shakes out and I’ll talk with him this week and see what happens.
“But we have three meaningful games left. And, you know, a bowl game left. So, really, you have almost a third of your season to play.”
Granted, a team with a 6-3 record might want to think more humble thoughts, especially when Ohio State is next on Michigan State’s menu. But the Spartans see nothing wrong with aiming high. As in Pasadena, California, where the Rose Bowl is located.
Any shot at a game so dreamy would of course mean winning out, beginning with a bashing of the Buckeyes on Saturday, followed by knockouts of Nebraska and Rutgers.
"If you can’t win the Big Ten championship — I guess, mathematically, there’s still opportunity,” Dantonio said as he weighed what seems like more than a long shot, perhaps even to the Spartans.
Khari Willis, MSU’s senior strong safety, acknowledged Tuesday it hasn’t exactly been a daily conversation piece.
“I think Brian (Lewerke) might have said something about that coming over here,” Willis said. “But none of that’s possible without this (OSU) game.”
The Spartans could find themselves at various post-season venues, with the Gator Bowl in Jacksonville, Fla., remaining a popular pick.
MSU's Khari Willis on facing Ohio State The Detroit News
Give and take
Dantonio wanted everyone to know Tuesday that Saturday’s “30-mile-an-hour wind” at Maryland was a team-wide culprit. It affected quarterback Brian Lewerke’s passes, he insisted, just as it played games with punter Bryce Bariner, who had punts that spanned two ends of the spectrum: 52 and 16 yards.
“You know, he punted well with the wind, and he punted poorly against it,” Dantonio said.
“That ought to tell you,” Dantonio added, that Saturday’s conditions were more of an issue on the field than on Spartans fans’ television screens.
“You know, for a third punter, he’s doing an outstanding job.”
Baringer was a September walk-on after regular punter Jake Hartbarger was lost for the season in MSU’s second game, against Arizona State, with a right leg injury. Tyler Hunt, another walk-on, last month tore his ACL, which cleared the way for Baringer.
Back at ‘em
Josiah Scott’s reputation is known conference-wide.
His teammate, Andrew Dowell, offered a concise summary Tuesday.
“Lock-up corner,” said Dowell, a linebacker who understands MSU’s secondary, which already was doing a nifty job in 2018, has gotten more bruising now that Scott is back following late-summer knee surgery. “I call him Mr. Reliable.”
Scott, a sophomore, has already decided in concert with Dantonio that 2018 will be a redshirt season.
Dantonio’s teams in their last 30 games during November have a 23-7 record. Most teams aspire to get better through a long season and peak during those final games. The Spartans under Dantonio have made it a team trademark.
“I think it’s just execution,” said Wills, who believes another factor applies, one the Spartans tend to optimize.
"After seven or eight games, you know what they (opponents) like to do.
"In November, you’ve got to play smart.”
Andrew Dowell’s explanation centers on one of Dantonio’s annual mantras.