East Lansing – Michigan State’s sidelines resembled a bit of a M*A*S*H unit after its victory over Central Michigan on Saturday, but it appears any long-term injuries might have been avoided.
Coach Mark Dantonio will typically address any injuries that will take a player out for the season, as he did last week when it was revealed redshirt freshman cornerback Vayante Copeland had a fractured vertebrae and would miss the rest of the year.
During his Sunday night teleconference, Dantonio was asked if he would comment on any potential long-term injuries coming out of Saturday’s game.
“No,” Dantonio said.
The biggest concern for No. 2 Michigan State as it begins Big Ten play this week against Purdue is the status of left tackle Jack Conklin. He left the game against Central Michigan in the first half and watched the second half from the sidelines in street clothes with his left knee in a brace.
Conklin is a preseason All-American, who along with center Jack Allen, is the anchor of Michigan State’s offensive line.
A long-term injury for him would be a significant blow for the Spartans.
Sophomore Dennis Finley stepped in for Conklin, and after an early holding penalty, he settled in and played well.
“This was his first opportunity with a lot of football plays, and he got better and better as the game went,” Dantonio said. “And I thought he played winning football. He did exactly what he needs to do. He’s a big guy, he was exceptionally sudden and pass-blocked well. ”
Conklin wasn’t the only key contributor to suffer an injury on Saturday.
Tight end Josiah Price injured his ankle late in the game and safety RJ Williamson went out of the game twice, the final time in the fourth quarter.
His absence was just part of the shuffling that was going on in the secondary as Michigan State continues to try and defend the pass better. It gave up multiple third-and-long plays against Central Michigan, which was 6-for-9 in third-down conversions in the first half.
“It was frustrating to be in long-yardage situations and not get out of them more often than we did,” Dantonio said. “In the second half we were much, much better. I think they were 2-of-9 in the second half on third and fourth downs.”
Junior Demetrious Cox, who has been playing predominantly at cornerback, played much more safety on Saturday as sophomore Montae Nicholson struggled.
“Montae needed to play better,” Dantonio said. “He has played more of a boundary safety-type position, which may be what he needs to play, I’m not sure but we will look at that this week. ”
With Cox moving over, that gave Darian Hicks more of a shot at cornerback, even after the junior had a minor injury in the first half, one Dantonio called a “tweak.”
It also allowed true freshman Khari Willis to get his first playing time at safety, something Dantonio said would continue.
“We’ve got guys that can play back there,” Dantonio said. “We’ve got some depth and we’ve gotta continue to develop more depth. Khari Willis played yesterday and I thought he did a good job. You’ll see more of Khari Willis moving forward in some ways.”
Whether any more true freshmen see the field, specifically at cornerback, remains to be seen.
But what Dantonio is clear about is the fact the secondary needs to play better as a whole if Michigan State is going to reach its goals.
“I don’t know if I can ever remember sitting there and saying the football team is exactly where I want it to be,” he said. “There are always going to be problems. … You try to fix them. When it’s third-and-long, we want to get off the field.
“So what we’ve got to do is correct it, play with confidence and come out and get better.”