East Lansing — As Michigan State spends the week trying to figure out how to get its offense moving, there was at least some clarity given to the status of punter Jake Hartbarger.
The fifth-year senior injured his right kicking leg in the second week of the season at Arizona State and was expected to be lost for up to eight weeks. On Tuesday, coach Mark Dantonio said Hartbarger is essentially done for the season.
“Jake, in all general purposes is, I believe, done for the year,” Dantonio said. “To throw your right leg up in air when it’s been broken is probably a little bit of an issue, from a confidence standpoint.”
That doesn’t mean Hartbarger’s career at Michigan State is necessarily over. Dantonio said they intend to explore Hartbarger being granted a medical redshirt, which would make him eligible next season.
“We can get a medical redshirt on him for him to be able to punt next year,” Dantonio said. “That’s the intent right now. Unless something drastically changes, that’s the intent. He knows that and I’ve talked to his family about it.”
A Ray Guy Award candidate entering the season, Hartbarger is just the third starting punter in the Dantonio era, following Aaron Bates and Mike Sadler. He ranked in the top 10 in program history in yards per punt, punting yards and total punts while recording 38 punts of 50 yards or more.
Seventy-one of his 186 career punts were downed inside the 20-yard line with 37 of those being downed inside the 10.
Before getting hurt in the fourth quarter at Arizona State, Hartbarger had a 74-yard punt that was downed at the ASU 6. That kick is the second-longest in the FBS this season.
Since Hartbarger has been out, punting has been a work in progress for the Spartans (3-2, 1-1 Big Ten). Backup quarterback Rocky Lombardi kicked once against Arizona State before Michigan State spent the bye week deciding what direction to go.
Against Indiana, redshirt freshman Tyler Hunt and walk-on Bryce Baringer both kicked. Hunt has handled the kicking the past two games and is averaging 38.9 yards on 15 punts this season with a long of 63 yards last week against Northwestern.
Michigan State’s poor play on the offensive line has been a big part of the offense’s problem this season, but at least some of the reason is the overall health of the unit.
Junior left tackle Cole Chewins has been limited all season while guards David Beedle and Kevin Jarvis are both out — Beedle, a fifth-year senior, for at least a month with an arm injury and Jarvis questionable with an ankle issue that has forced the sophomore to miss the last two games. Sophomore guard/tackle Luke Campbell also has been banged up and now finds himself as a backup.
It’s led to plenty of shuffling, which was on display again with this week’s depth chart. Chewins is listed as the lone starter now at left tackle, a spot that has been manned at times by Campbell and junior Tyler Higby. With Beedle out, Higby now moves to left guard, a spot he’s started 13 times in past seasons. He’s backed up there by redshirt freshman Matt Carrick, who saw his first extensive playing time last week.
At right guard, Jarvis is listed as the co-starter with redshirt freshman and former walk-on Blake Bueter, who got his first start last week.
The only constants remain sophomore Jordan Reid at right tackle and sophomore Matt Allen at center. Reid has started all five games, while Allen has solidified his spot after Higby started the first two games at center.
“Got to protect the quarterback and find a way to run the football, there's no question about that,” Dantonio said. “So on it goes.”
MSU on mend
The injuries have not been limited to the offensive line as the Spartans are without sophomore wide receiver Cody White (hand) and senior running back LJ Scott (ankle). Freshman receiver Jalen Nailor also has been limited, and sophomore cornerback Josiah Scott (knee) hasn’t played this season.
Dantonio was asked if this is as bad as it’s been in his 12 seasons.
“I look at the year in its totality at the end of the year,” Dantonio said. “I imagine this is as many early injuries as we've had in those times, but at the end of the year, how did we come out?
“We really have not had that many season-ending injuries. … So we're getting guys back, and we'll get them back. You have just got to deal with it.”