East Lansing — Michigan State entered the season opener on Friday night against Tulsa looking to breathe some life into an offense that struggled to put points on the board in 2018.
One of the keys to that turnaround will be improving the running game, which ranked 13th in the Big Ten a year ago. While a healthy offensive line will be critical, deciding the running back rotation will be as well.
That rotation was limited on Friday with freshman Anthony Williams Jr. out of the lineup. An early enrollee who played well in the spring game, Williams suffered an undisclosed injury early in preseason camp. Michigan State coach Mark Dantonio hasn’t given any updates on Williams’ status, instead saying several running backs — junior Connor Heyward, sophomore La’Darius Jefferson and redshirt freshman Elijah Collins — were all expected to get carries.
“Pretty fluid,” Dantonio said. “I see that running back situation very fluid. Guys are going to get opportunities especially in the first game of the season. Connor has had a good summer camp, been impressed with really all of our running backs in summer camp. They've adapted to some of the new things, been able to retain other things.”
Williams wasn’t the only player missing on Friday night that the 18th-ranked Spartans are counting on to contribute.
Fifth-year senior left tackle Cole Chewins was out with a back injury that has been an issue going back to last spring.
“He struggled with his back here throughout preseason,” Dantonio said. “Right now he's sort of on a day-to-day basis, see where he's at. We anticipate he'll be able to play at some point. Has had some time off here as of late.”
Chewins has started 25 games in his career, including all 13 games at left tackle as a sophomore in 2017. That led to high expectations entering last season, but an injury hampered Chewins early in the season. He missed the first game against Utah State before starting in week two at Arizona State. However, he was out after the first series and didn’t return to the starting lineup until week six at Penn State. Chewins finished the 2018 season with nine starts and played 663 snaps, but by the time spring practice rolled around, he was once again being held out.
Also out of the line was sophomore defensive end Jack Camper, as well as redshirt freshman defensive end Zach Slade, who injured his leg late in camp and is likely out for the season. Freshman defensive end Michael Fletcher and freshman wide receiver Tre’Von Morgan were both out, as well, after suffering injuries in preseason camp.
The injury to Chewins forced some changes along Michigan State’s offensive line.
Junior Kevin Jarvis, who spent the last two seasons as the Spartans’ right guard, started at left tackle in place of Chewins. Junior AJ Arcuri was expected to enter the starting lineup but couldn't play.
The rest of the starting lineup included junior Luke Campbell at left guard, junior Matt Allen at center, sophomore Matt Carrick at right guard and junior Jordan Reid at right tackle. Fifth-year senior Tyler Higby also saw time at right guard while sophomore Blake Bueter played a handful of snaps at left guard.
It was the first time Jarvis has played tackle.
“AJ was nicked up,” Dantonio said. “He was able to practice but not to push off with enough; he was nicked up. We felt like the best lineup we had at this point in time was putting Matt Carrick at guard and Kevin Jarvis has worked at tackle a lot for the last two weeks and he's done a nice job. He's powerful, he's a good offensive lineman and he can be very good at that position.
“This was his first time playing it so like the first time you do anything in a game, I'm sure that there were some issues.”
Offensive coordinator Brad Salem, in his first game since being promoted from quarterbacks coach, called plays from the sidelines. That means both coordinators, including Mike Tressel on defense, are on the field instead of the coach’s box.
… Wide receiver Julian Barnett was the only true freshman to see any playing time in the first half.
… Sophomore Tyler Hunt, a backup kicker, was the holder on field goals and extra points. Last season, quarterback Brian Lewerke was the holder.
… Long snapper Ryan Armour, a fifth-year senior, injured his leg in the second half and did not return.