MSU freshman 'baller' Cody White earns top job

Jameson Draper
Special to The Detroit News

East Lansing — Last Saturday, MSU pulled out a closely contested 17-9 win against Indiana. The offense looked stagnant but prevailed with two huge touchdowns in the fourth quarter, proving to be just enough for the Spartans to improve to 4-0 in the Big Ten.

True freshman wide receiver Cody White (Walled Lake Western) played a critical role on both touchdown drives. Now, it looks like that performance has earned him a starting spot.

White is listed as a starting receiver ahead of sophomore Trishton Jackson on this week’s depth chart for the game against Northwestern, along with Darrell Stewart Jr. and Felton Davis III. It’s his first week listed as a starter, and a big change, as it takes a lot for coach Mark Dantonio to switch up his depth chart.

“He deserves it. He’s been working hard every day,” Davis said. “I knew he was going to be a baller.”

More: MSU expects big fan base at Northwestern

And it all started in the fourth quarter against Indiana.

With the Spartans down 9-3, MSU was nearing field-goal range when quarterback Brian Lewerke was sacked for a loss of 9 to the Indiana 49, leaving the Spartans with third and 19. The ensuing play saw Lewerke hit White for a 16-yard gain, setting up a manageable fourth-and-3. Lewerke then hit White’s true freshman counterpart Hunter Rison for a 4-yard gain to keep the drive alive.

“The one on that third-and-long, he was running his route and he kept going and I just rolled out,” Lewerke said of his first game-saving pass to White. “That was more improvised.”

On the second touchdown drive, with MSU up 10-9, Lewerke zipped a 34-yard pass to White on third-and-9, which he took to Indiana’s 18-yard line with 2:26 remaining, essentially sealing the game. The next play was LJ Scott’s 18-yard touchdown run, securing MSU’s bowl eligibility.

While White didn’t have a touchdown, his performance was the best from an MSU wide receiver this season, besting Stewart’s 85-yard day in the opener.

“I don’t really feel like anything changed (in Saturday’s game),” White said. “Different opportunities in different games.”

White’s impressive game did not go unnoticed by teammates.

“It takes a lot of pressure off of each guy individually,” Davis said. “Teams come in and they don’t know who to key on, specifically. Anybody out there can have a big day if you don’t come out there and play them well.”

“It’s huge,” senior linebacker and team captain Chris Frey said. “It gives us another option in that loaded wide receiver room that we have — guys that can step up and make plays.”

White finished with a game-high 99 yards on six receptions, a career high. That’s more receptions and yards than he had all season coming into the game (five for 50 yards.)

The case could be made that White saved the game twice over, in turn saving Lewerke from criticism for having an off game.

White seems to have stepped up this season amongst a batch of young wideouts who are working each game to distance themselves from each other.

But White doesn’t see himself as separated from the bunch.

“I say we got a tight group,” White said. He insinuated that no one is gaining ground on the others. “We’re just together right now.”

Initially, Spartans fans thought Jackson would be the focal point of MSU’s passing game. After only nine receptions for 121 yards through the first five games, Jackson got hit with the injury bug and hasn’t seen the field since MSU defeated Michigan, a game in which he had a crucial drop in the fourth quarter that went under the radar.

Another player MSU fans thought might become the frontman of the receiving corps was Stewart, who had six receptions for 85 yards in the team’s first game against Bowling Green. While he might be MSU’s most productive wideout this season, his numbers have been down in recent weeks. He’s only had four receptions for 52 yards in the past two weeks.

Other receivers — namely Davis, Rison and Cam Chambers — have shown a glimpse of star potential, but the only one who’s truly had a breakout game is White.

“I feel like our receiving group every game comes out the same way,” White said. “It just happened to be my day that day.”

On a team that needs a go-to target for Lewerke, White could become a critical piece of the MSU offense. In a run that includes Ohio State and Penn State, the Spartans are going to need it.

“It feels good to get my feet wet a little bit in this game against Northwestern,” White said.

Jameson Draper is a freelance writer.

Michigan State at Northwestern

Kickoff: 3:30 Saturday, Ryan Field, Evanston, Ill.

TV/radio: ESPN/760

Records: Michigan State 6-1, 4-0 Big Ten; Northwestern 4-3, 2-2

Line: Michigan State by 2