Michigan State loses punter Jake Hartbarger for 6-8 weeks
East Lansing — How quickly Michigan State bounces back from Saturday’s loss at Arizona State remains to be seen, but the Spartans will have to move forward without punter Jake Hartbarger, at least for the foreseeable future.
The senior punter was hit in his right kicking leg during the game and on Tuesday, coach Mark Dantonio said Hartbarger will be out for six to eight weeks with what he called a bone bruise or possibly a fracture.
“He's got a bone bruise or maybe a slight fracture in there. We're going to miss him,” Dantonio said. “Rocky Lombardi will be the punter, maybe Tyler Hunt. But we'll go on. Rocky is a great athlete and he's punted before. He was our backup punter.”
Lombardi, of course, is also Michigan State’s No. 2 quarterback. The redshirt freshman punted once in Saturday’s game for 32 yards. Hunt is a redshirt freshman walk-on placekicker who battled fellow redshirt freshman Cole Hahn throughout preseason camp as Michigan State’s kickoff specialist.
Dantonio said freshman walk-on William Przystup could also get a shot.
“William Przystup is a guy who is a walk-on from Florida and we'll see how he works out,” Dantonio said. “He may walk out there fresh, who knows. But Rocky has the ability. He needs to wear the right shoe and take the (knee) brace off and work a little bit but he's an outstanding athlete. I feel comfortable with the quarterback back there, we'll have a guy back there who understands pressure.”
Hartbarger was injured in the fourth quarter on a play that had been blown dead because of a false start. Hartbarger took the snap and continued the kick as an Arizona State defender hit him low, banging into Hartbarger’s right leg just after his foot had planted in the ground.
There was no penalty called on Arizona State, and Dantonio said he was given an explanation as to why there was no call. However, he didn’t want to go into detail about what he was told from the officials.
“I don't think it's my business to go into that,” Dantonio said. “That's not my business. I don't ref the games. They are doing the very best they can do, I know that.
“I'm not going to make excuses. I'm going to concern myself with the things that we can control and I can control. But I got a very clear reading on that, yeah.”
Using a backup quarterback as a punter isn’t new for the Spartans. In 2015, Tyler O’Connor punted five times for a 38.4-yard average, the same season Hartbarger was a redshirt freshman.
But Dantonio believes Lombardi will do well.
“I think he still needs to get reps as a quarterback and spend some other time during practice working as punter,” Dantonio said. “We’ll have to orchestrate practice accordingly. He has a strong leg, so he just needs to work at it a bit more and be coached a little more. He punts with raw power now. I do think he has the ability to do it and we’ll find out a little bit more as we move forward.”
Junior Tyriq Thompson started the opener but did not make the trip with the team to Arizona State and Dantonio said Tuesday it was not because of an injury.
“We left him at home because he got into a situation and I felt it was warranted that we leave him at home,” Dantonio said. “He rejoined the team yesterday.”
Dantonio didn’t offer any details, but 54B District Court records show Thompson was arraigned on Tuesday for a misdemeanor noise violation and paid a $200 bond. He has a pre-trial hearing scheduled for Sept. 27.
Sophomore Brandon Bouyer-Randle earned his first career start and finished with three tackles, including one for loss.
Michigan State had some other injuries on Saturday night. Left guard David Beedle and running back LJ Scott both left the game with undisclosed injuries while left tackle Cole Chewins lasted just one play.
But Dantonio said he didn’t believe there were any long-term issues outside of Hartbarger.
“I do not think that those are long-term issues,” he said. “I don't anticipate them to be long-term issues.”
… Dantonio said redshirt freshman offensive lineman Blake Bueter and junior long snapper Ryan Armour, both walk-ons, were awarded scholarships on Monday.