Michigan State is back into Big Ten play this week with Northwestern visiting Spartan Stadium at noon Saturday.
The fans are still unsure of the offense and are wary of the injuries that have started to pile up. In this week’s mailbag we do our best to tackle the issues, including the play off the offensive line, some more on play-calling from Dave Warner and the status of some of the injured.
►Question. (Connor) Heyward seems to play better in space than between the tackles. Said to have great hands. Any chance he gets a look at slot with (Cody) White out and (La’Darius) Jefferson looking pretty good at RB? — @James_Thornburg
►Answer. Maybe. How’s that for a definitive answer? The other thing that could have an impact there is the return of LJ Scott as well as Darrell Stewart and Jalen Nailor. I wouldn’t put a whole lot of stock into the weekly depth chart which seems to serve these days as nothing more than an attempt to throw off the competition. But there’s no doubt Heyward is a versatile player who can be used in several different roles. I wouldn’t rule any of them out, but if Scott remains on the sidelines this week, I’m not sure you’ll see a dramatic change in Heyward’s role at the moment.
►Q. The PFF O-line rankings were interesting. What or who has caused MSU's line to fall behind even Rutgers' line? I know it is probably a combination of things, but it is concerning to me that Minny, IU, Purdue, Maryland, and Rutgers can all recruit/develop a better O-line than MSU. — @WaiteMarc
►A. The question of course refers to the metric used by Pro Football Focus, and it’s pretty good. What has been the cause? I think it’s been pretty clear to this point for the offensive line — injuries. I know that often is an excuse but consider left tackle Cole Chewins started 16 straight games and has played only a handful of snaps to this point. Also, fifth-year senior David Beedle has been playing hurt, as has sophomore Luke Campbell. And with sophomore Kevin Jarvis out with an ankle injury, it’s created shuffling even Mark Staten wouldn’t have implemented.
I expected there to be some growing pains as MSU tried to replace Brian Allen at center. But it looks like his brother, Matt, has locked that down. So, I don’t think it’s about not developing players or poor recruiting. This group simply hasn’t stayed healthy. If you want to delve deeper into recruiting and wonder about the likes of AJ Arcuri, Mustafah Khaleefah and Matt Carrick, maybe that’s worth wondering about development. But for the guys in the current rotation getting healthy is the No. 1 priority.
►Q. How can Michigan State avoid looking ahead to the biggest game on their schedule like PSU did? — @LandGrantTrophy
►A. What players doesn’t grow up dreaming of carrying that trophy off the field?
►Q. Let’s talk red zone play calling by Dave Warner. Players play the game but X’s and O’s that go parallel to the goal line instead of towards and non-passing attempts reek of no confidence. Option kicker right. — @jbaileo91
►A. The biggest shock this week was that this was the only question I got that specifically called out co-offensive coordinator Dave Warner. Is every play call perfect? Nope. But not throwing the ball reeks of no confidence? Huh? You think an offensive lineman lacks confidence when they say, ‘Let’s run the ball down your throat into the end zone?’ That doesn’t make sense to me. So yeah, I’m not in love with every call, especially runs near the goal line that take a long time to develop. But I hardly think MSU isn’t throwing the ball in the red zone because it’s not confident.
►Q. Why is the tight end position virtually ignored as a weapon in our offense? — @patrickragains
►A. There’s probably no simple answer to this one. There hasn’t been a change in MSU’s offensive philosophy and it’s not like they’re calling plays to avoid the tight end. Here’s how Warner put it this week: “I think it’s not that we have not tried to get the ball to our tight ends. I guess just through (Lewerke’s) read progression or just maybe a confidence level on his part he’s targeted other guys more. But we want to and need to give the ball to tight ends. We know that and we’re trying to do that so hopefully we can before long we can get them a couple catches.”
►Q. When are we going to crush a team? — @The_Real_Woody
►A. I’m not sure a blowout is left on the schedule outside of Rutgers. So, in the final game of the regular season? That might be the best bet. The defense has played well enough to keep Michigan State in nearly every game it will play. It will be up to the offense to get rolling. To me, that formula sets up for plenty of close games.
►Q. What do you believe the "attitude adjustment" was, in regards to Dantonio and Shakur Brown? — @LuGWit
►A. Good question. I can tell you it doesn’t appear to be any sort of legal issue. So, what does that leave? Maybe breaking a team rule or something of that nature, but that’s just a guess. I’d expect Brown back this week.
►Q. Why Brandon Sowards starting over Jailon Nailor? — @SpartyH
►A. The simplest answer is that Sowards is healthy. According to Lewerke, neither Nailor nor Stewart practiced on Tuesday, so there’s no guarantee either will be ready by Saturday. So that would lead to more opportunities for guys like Sowards, Laress Nelson and even C.J. Hayes. Whether or not Cam Chambers is back will factor in, as well.
►Q. Is LJ going to play Saturday? — @Mister856
►A. Another good question. He’s not far but there has been a measure of playing it safe with LJ. You’d prefer to be safe and make sure he’s 100 percent when he comes back and not allow the ankle issue to linger. My guess is he’ll be back this week, but a lot will depend on the last couple of days of practice.