East Lansing — Through the first five games of his career, Michigan State wide receiver Cody White was playing like most freshmen seeing their first college action.
He would be in for a handful of plays, be targeted a few times and slowly get his feet wet in the Spartans’ offense.
It seemed the standard development. That development has skyrocketed in the last two weeks. Following his six catches for 99 yards against Indiana, White exploded with nine catches for 165 yards and two touchdowns in the triple-overtime loss at Northwestern.
It’s been the type of production that has been building for White, the former standout at Walled Lake Western.
“I think everybody is always on a different timetable, I guess, as they mature as a player within the program,” coach Mark Dantonio said Tuesday. “He’s a quick learner. He’s got a skill set. He’s made the 50/50 catches, that’s what he’s really done. He’s made catches with guys hanging on him, big plays.”
The big plays came quickly last week as White caught a 60-yard pass from Brian Lewerke on the opening drive of the game and finished things off with a 6-yard touchdown catch. He added a 45-yard catch in the fourth quarter and had an 11-yard touchdown grab in overtime.
His nine catches were a career high, as were the 165 yards, which was a program record for freshman. The pair of touchdowns were also the first of his career.
“When you see that, you tend to give guys more opportunities,” Dantonio said. “He played 73 plays in the game on Saturday, which is far more than he’s played. He was at the point of attack where he had the ball thrown to him more often. Basically, that’s what we’ve seen throughout practice to some extent, to a large extent, and then as the games have progressed, he’s made plays, I think beginning probably with the Minnesota game maybe. He started to sort of take off.”
White is hardly a one-man attack in the receiving corps. Junior Felton Davis had eight catches for 95 yards and two touchdowns to give him seven for the season and sophomore Darrell Stewart had career highs in catches (11) and yards (98) against Northwestern.
“Like I’ve said before, I think we’ve had different guys all have their big games periodically,” Dantonio said. “It’s not like he’s the one guy that’s getting the ball thrown to him. We’ve got others.”
Flummoxed by fumbles
Michigan State has had trouble hanging on to the ball all season and it wasn’t much better against Northwestern. The Spartans fumbled the ball three times against the Wildcats, and lost it once.
That brings the total numbers to 22 fumbles this season, with 10 lost.
According to Dantonio, there’s no magic fix.
“I assure you, it’s being stressed and it’s a point of emphasis and a point of frustration,” Dantonio said. “But I don’t have an answer for you. I can just tell you that it’s on everybody’s mind. We’ve got to hold onto the football. Collectively we’re working at it with drills and everything else.”
This week’s opponent — Penn State — happens to lead the Big Ten in turnover margin at plus-14 with 11 fumble recoveries and nine interceptions.
It’s a big reason the Nittany Lions are among the best teams in the nation.
“Penn State is the best in the conference at takeaways right now, and that traditionally has been our job or our role when we’ve won championships,” Dantonio said. “Again, it’s a game-to-game thing. What we have to do now is assess every game and go into that game and say, ‘Did we win the turnover margin, did we not?’ ”
Junior David Beedle started last week at left guard while freshman Kevin Jarvis remained the starter at right guard. Sophomore Tyler Higby, who started the first seven games at left guard, still played as three rotated with Beedle playing both spots.
That rotation should continue, Dantonio said.
“I think all three of those guys are sort of in the mix in terms of playing,” Dantonio said. “We roll those guys in there by series, a lot of times as the series begins. I think Beedle was in on our longer series, Tyler was in on some shorter series. That’s just the way it went down. I don’t think there’s any lack of confidence in Tyler Higby, or David Beedle or Kevin Jarvis.”