East Lansing — It’s probably getting crowded in the Michigan State training room these days.
Entering Saturday’s game at home against Central Michigan, the Spartans were down on offense three starters and a couple of key reserves while one defensive starter — already replacing an injured player — was on the sidelines.
However, with Big Ten play back in full swing this week with a visit from Northwestern, coach Mark Dantonio is doing his best to see the glass as half full.
“It would be easier not having to deal with that, but I’ve never gone and made excuses,” Dantonio said during his weekly teleconference Sunday night. “Sometimes when guys get an opportunity to play, that increases the overall strength of our team because we’ll get those (injured) guys back. They’re not season-ending injuries. A lot of them will be back this week. But we were missing three wide receivers (Saturday) and then when Cody went out we were without four of our top six wide receivers. That’s a problem, as you can imagine, but it gave an opportunity for a couple other guys. Laress Nelson made a couple plays. I thought Brandon Sowards made a couple. Then when you look at the offensive line, we’re juggling people around.
“We have some guys not playing, but such is life.”
The offensive line has had a different starting lineup in each of the first four games as sophomore guard Kevin Jarvis was out Saturday after injuring his ankle against Indiana. Guards David Beedle and Luke Campbell were back to 100 percent, while junior left tackle Cole Chewins continued his slow return by seeing action in a handful of plays.
Matt Charboneau and John Niyo of The Detroit News break down Michigan State's 31-20 win and give their main takeaways from the game. Matt Charboneau, The Detroit News
But it’s the skill positions where the Spartans (3-1, 1-0 Big Ten) are feeling the pinch almost as much. Senior running back LJ Scott missed his second straight game with an ankle injury while junior receiver Darrell Stewart (ankle) was out, as well as freshman receiver Jalen Nailor after scoring twice at Indiana.
Sophomore backup Cam Chambers also was out after getting hurt vs. Indiana, opening the door for Sowards and Nelson, as well as redshirt freshman C.J. Hayes and sophomore Andre Welch
Now, White exits the lineup as Michigan State’s leading receiver.
“We’ll have to pick it up,” Dantonio said. “But it’s a tough situation for him, but he’s a resilient young man. He has always handled things, and he’ll handle this as well and we’ll get him back.”
In stark contrast, the defense is relatively healthy. The injuries on that side of the ball now focus on one spot. Sophomore cornerback Josiah Scott has been out since the start of camp and his replacement, junior Josh Butler, got hurt late vs. Indiana. That led to sophomore Tre Person getting his first start ahead of redshirt freshman Shakur Brown, who returned an interception for a touchdown last week, but was held out vs. Central for non-injury reasons.
“I thought Tre played well,” Dantonio said. “He played rather than Shak because, quite honestly, Shak needed a little attitude adjustment and we took care of that.”
Before Sunday, Dantonio hadn’t given any details on the injury to Scott, a freshman All-American last season when he had two interceptions and broke up 10 passes. However, Dantonio revealed Scott suffered an injury to his meniscus.
A quick fix is cutting the meniscus out, which can have a player back in two weeks. But long-term, the better move is to have the injury repaired, which requires a 2- to 3-month recovery period.
“This was a situation where it had the ability to be repaired, so we used that option, obviously, to repair it. He’s coming along. (His return) depends on how fast he heals. It’s been two months almost and I would expect him to start to move around and we’ll see how he’s doing.”
Scott’s injury could lead to Michigan State using the new redshirt rule to their advantage. If Scott is only available for four games or less, he could avoid losing the season. When he does return, he’ll have to sit out a half after getting called for targeting in Michigan State’s win over Washington State in the Holiday Bowl.
“That’s a possibility,” Dantonio said. “We want to make sure he is healthy enough to play at 100 percent. He will have to sit the one half of a game too, so that has to be a factor.”
Healthy or not, though, Dantonio knows the “meat” of the schedule is upon the Spartans. Three of the next four are at home, but Penn State and Michigan are in there, two games that will go a long way toward determining the Big Ten East.
A home game with Ohio State comes in the final quarter of the season when Dantonio expects his team to be peaking.
“Expectations are very high here, as they should be,” Dantonio said. “But I don’t think we played our best football game yet and we’re four games in. We’ve played pretty good in spurts, but we haven’t hit on all cylinders. so we’ll look forward to that challenge the next four weeks.”