Michigan State head coach Mark Dantonio discusses the Spartans' quarterback situation, as well as Nebraska. Matt Charboneau, The Detroit News
East Lansing — Injuries are part of the deal in football. Every team deals with them to some extent.
For teams that end up winning championships, some luck usually is involved relative to the team’s overall health. Conversely, bad luck on the injury front often can be difficult to overcome.
That’s been the case for Michigan State this season, as 11 of its 22 players that returned with starting experience have suffered injuries, including two who have been lost for the season.
However, coach Mark Dantonio isn’t asking anyone to feel sorry for the Spartans.
“We need to push forward,” Dantonio said. “I've never sat up here and said, ‘Hey, we didn't win this game and here is the excuse.’ I'm not going to start doing that now. Everybody here is on scholarship, we recruit good players, somebody gets hurt, it's an opportunity for somebody else to step up.”
There have been plenty of opportunities for players to step up this season, as Michigan State (6-4, 4-3 Big Ten) prepares to take on Nebraska on Saturday in Lincoln, Neb. Most of those opportunities have been on the offensive side of the ball, where nine players who have started have been out.
The most significant injuries came to senior receiver Felton Davis and fifth-year senior punter Jake Hartbarger. Davis ruptured his Achilles against Michigan on Oct. 20, while Hartbarger suffered a broken leg in Week 2.
Even the backups have had their problems. Sophomore wide receivers Cam Chambers and Laress Nelson have missed time, as has redshirt freshman receiver C.J. Hayes.
“You've got a number of people that have opportunity to play and made the best of it,” Dantonio said.
But Michigan State has slowly started to get some players back. While senior running back LJ Scott has decided to shut it down and return for a fifth season after missing six games with an ankle injury, others have returned. Wide receiver Cody White (hand) is back after missing four games while junior wide receiver Darrell Stewart Jr. (ankle) missed the better part of three games.
Still, Dantonio believes the injuries are only one part of the reason Michigan State is out of the Big Ten East race with two games to play.
“I think timing hurts us sometimes, you're playing in and out different people, but we've lost four football games,” Dantonio said. “I feel like we've had a chance to win every one of those. So it's more than just about injuries that we didn't win those games. It's coaching decisions, it's head-coaching decisions, it's players that are playing, you know, breakdowns or the ability to execute. It's the execution of the people we're playing against, that they do a good job, so, so many things you look at there. We're going to keep getting better and keep pushing.”
Where there's a Will
Michigan State has used five punters this season — one of them a backup quarterback — and might have settled in after scrambling to replace two punters lost to injury.
After Hartbarger’s injury, redshirt freshman Tyler Hunt suffered a knee injury in practice the week of the Purdue game. Walk-on Bryce Baringer took over from there but against Ohio State, freshman William Przystup punted three times with two going for more than 50 yards.
“He did a fantastic job last Saturday, for a guy walking out there for the first time punting,” Dantonio said. “He has a calm demeanor and good nerves for it, and he got it done.”
Quarterback Rocky Lombardi punted in the Arizona State game after Hartbarger got hurt, which was the beginning of the punting carousel.
Honoring Sadler, Foltz
Nebraska and Michigan State will honor Sam Foltz and Mike Sadler during a pregame ceremony on Saturday. Sadler and Foltz were killed in car accident July 23, 2016. Foltz was Nebraska's punter at the time while Sadler was Michigan State's punter from 2011-14.
According to Tom Shatel of the Omaha World-Herald, the ceremony will include the head coaches, parents of Foltz and Sadler and specialists of both teams.
Beedle, Allen on mend
Two offensive linemen were back on the sidelines last week but did not play.
Fifth-year senior David Beedle hasn’t played since suffering an arm injury against Northwestern while sophomore Matt Allen missed the previous two games with a foot injury. Neither saw action against Ohio State but are close to returning.
“He's working toward it,” Dantonio said of Beedle.