For MSU, winning takes priority over playing time

Matt Charboneau
The Detroit News

East Lansing — Michigan State closes out its non-conference portion of the season on Saturday and it might be one of the last chances to get playing time for some younger players.

But that doesn’t mean coach Mark Dantonio will do so at the expense of securing a victory.

Central Michigan visits Spartan Stadium at noon Saturday to take on No. 2 Michigan State, and his focus remains on one thing.

“We just want to win, we just want to win,” Dantonio said Tuesday. “Then when it becomes comfortable we'll try to get guys in.”

Through three weeks, things have yet to get comfortable enough for Dantonio to go too far down the depth chart. He’s been forced to at some spots — cornerback and right tackle for injury and middle linebacker for an ejection — but just getting some others work hasn’t been as simple.

In the opener, Western Michigan was closing in on making it a one-touchdown game in the fourth quarter before a Vayante Copeland interception in the end zone, and Week 2 against Oregon went down to the wire.

Last week against Air Force, Dantonio hoped to get more players in the game, but what appeared to be a comfortable second-half lead quickly began to disappear against the triple-option attack.

“It was 35-7 and they were prepared to go to the next step,” Dantonio said. “They ran the option five straight times without a guy on the pitch and that's alarming when you coach on the sideline. So they scored, so it became 35-14 and it is what it is.

“We're going to play to win. Obviously we want to play as many players as we can play because we want to get our guys experience, but we're not going to get experience at the expense of making a game closer than it already is.”

One spot Dantonio especially wanted go deeper was at quarterback. Junior Tyler O’Connor hasn’t taken a snap in three games while sophomore Damion Terry has played, both as a receiver and at quarterback.

However, Terry’s limited action taking the snap has been to run the ball.

“He just needs some game experience,” Dantonio said of Terry. “I think Tyler O'Connor same thing; he hasn't played since last year. We were hoping to get them that experience this past weekend, but just the way the game flowed at the end there.”

Freshmen step in

Wide receiver Felton Davis and safety Grayson Miller became the third and fourth true freshmen to play when they got in against Air Force. They join running back LJ Scott and linebacker Andrew Dowell.

Davis’ time was limited and Miller was primarily on special teams, but this week Miller has moved up to No. 2 on the depth chart behind sophomore Montae Nicholson. Dantonio said Miller, the son of former Michigan State safety John Miller, is competing with several players, including redshirt freshmen Jalen Watts-Jackson and Matt Morrissey, as well as true freshman Khari Willis for backup reps.

“We're trying to work those guys and trying to figure it out from there,” Dantonio said. “Depends on how they adjust to every single game week, how they play within that week and if we think they're ready.

“But they're working with us on the defensive end or they're working with us in Felton Davis' case on the offensive end, so they're on the depth chart because of that. Grayson, he'll try to just expand his opportunities to see exactly where he fits.”

Redshirt possible for Williams

Junior running back Delton Williams did not play for the third straight game and appears closer to a redshirt season each week.

With the play of redshirt freshman Madre London and Scott, who are both listed as No. 1 tailbacks this week, finding playing time for Williams or sophomore Gerald Holmes is becoming difficult.

“We're just not going to play him until he takes significant reps,” Dantonio said of Williams. “Unless something changes this week, that's the way I would put it. Just don't want to waste a year on him if that's what he wants to do in that kind of situation. He's got to carry the football.

“I just don't know if there's enough carries to split three ways. We tried to a little bit with Gerald this last weekend, but we're talking about he had nine plays and maybe three or four carries. I just think that's tough when you do that. So he's a good football player, he's a good running back, just where it's at right now. Doesn't mean it won't be different two weeks from now, or a week or even this weekend.”

No Sweat

Redshirt freshman defensive end Montez Sweat has been suspended, Dantonio said.

He didn’t offer any specifics, only saying that it wasn’t a long-term situation.

“He’s been suspended for this point in time,” Dantonio said. “For a time.”

Sweat did not dress last week against Air Force but played in the opener against Western Michigan and in week two against Oregon.