East Lansing — Michigan State’s linebacking corps had a bit of a different look for much of Saturday’s game against Air Force, and it will see even more changes next week.
The most significant change during No. 4 Michigan State’s 35-21 victory over Air Force was the fact true freshman Andrew Dowell played nearly the entire game at “Star” linebacker, the outside linebacker on the weak side.
Fifth-year senior Darien Harris started but didn’t play much. Later, co-defensive coordinator Harlon Barnett confirmed Harris was “not 100 percent.”
Dowell made the most of his opportunity, recording seven tackles, which was second behind the 16 tallied by middle linebacker Riley Bullough.
“I think he did a pretty decent job,” Barnett said. “He’s a freshman. We got some things that he can make adjustments on from the sidelines and he made those adjustments and was able to make plays and things of that nature. … It was a good experience for him. A good thing, it helps us.”
Dowell said he was told before the game to be ready to get a lot of plays and he relished the opportunity.
“This is a dream I’ve had since I was a little kid,” said Dowell, whose brother David is a true freshman defensive back. “Just playing at a Big Ten school like Michigan State and contributing and making plays.”
The issue moving forward for the linebackers, at least for the short term, is the fact Bullough was called for targeting in the fourth quarter, which led to an ejection and will force the junior to sit out the first half next week against Central Michigan.
“This week as linebackers we didn’t talk too much about pass coverage because we knew they were going to come in and run it,” Bullough said. “What we were supposed to do was just drop whenever they passed it and try to find a receiver. I saw him from a few yards away before he threw it, and I just attacked on it as I always would — just try to make the tackle.”
Copeland misses with neck injury
While the linebackers have their own set of problems, the defensive backfield could be without redshirt freshman cornerback Vayante Copeland for an extended period.
He was injured last week against Oregon and didn’t return, but was listed as No. 1 on the depth chart this week. However, before the game Saturday he was on the sidelines wearing a neck brace.
Michigan State hasn’t commented officially on the injury as senior Arjen Colquhoun started in Copeland’s place. Juniors Darian Hicks and Jermaine Edmondson also played but struggled at times, with Colquhoun getting beaten for a 44-yard gain that set up Air Force’s last touchdown.
“You never know how a guy really plays,” defensive back Demetrious Cox said. “You see what you see on TV or from the stands, but you never really know how a guy plays until you go watch film and see the little things.”
Following the game, Michigan State’s players stood with the Air Force players as the Academy band played the school’s alma mater in a show of respect.
“Coach (Ron) Burton, who coached at the Air Force Academy, said that’s a tradition that’s held at every place that they play,” Michigan State coach Mark Dantonio said. “They wait until Air Force players go down and listen to their fight song, so we wanted to do that out of respect for them and what they mean to this country.”
… Junior Benny McGowan started at right guard and senior Donavon Clark started at right tackle in place of junior Kodi Kieler (knee).
… Former Spartan Jerel Worthy was the team’s honorary captain.
… Junior Josiah Price tied Chris Baker (1998-2001) for the Spartans record for most TD catches by a tight end with 13.