MSU's Mark Dantonio plans to let several freshmen burn redshirt option in regular-season finale
East Lansing — As fifth-year senior quarterback Brian Lewerke’s career has wound down at Michigan State, he likely never thought he’d ever take a snap with three true freshmen along the offensive line.
But that’s exactly what unfolded when left tackle Devontae Dobbs, left guard J.D. Duplain and center Nick Samac all started last weekend against Rutgers.
For a team that has been hit hard by injuries and transfers this season, it’s led to a youth movement on both sides of the ball and numerous redshirts being burned in the process.
With at least one game left — as well as a possible bowl berth — for Michigan State (5-6, 3-5 Big Ten), four true freshmen are sitting at four games played: wide receiver Tre Mosley, running back Brandon Wright, safety Tate Hallock and Dobbs.
Under new NCAA rules that went into effect last season, football players can play in up to four contests and still preserve their redshirt season. In the past, playing just one snap would cost a player a season of eligibility.
According to coach Mark Dantonio, those redshirt decisions have already been discussed and made with the four Spartans heading into Saturday’s regular-season finale against Maryland (3-8, 1-7).
“I think if guys are playing — if a guy is a starter, I mean, he's got to play on,” Dantonio said. “With respect to some of these guys, you just don't know what's going to happen.
“In the case of Dobbs, he's slated to start. In the case of Tre Mosley, he's played 30 plays a game here the last number of games, so he's an integral part of our offense, as well. I see them playing on.”
Dobbs, the top-ranked player in Michigan State’s 2019 recruiting class, was occasionally mixed into the rotation early in the season before seeing significant action the past two games, including his first start in last weekend’s win over Rutgers.
Mosley, an early enrollee, didn’t make his first appearance until the Oct. 26 loss to Penn State. He has since played in each of the past four games, racking up 93 yards and a touchdown on nine receptions.
Meanwhile, Wright has risen up the depth chart in a thin backfield after sophomore La’Darius Jefferson and junior Connor Heyward both entered the transfer portal earlier this season. Like Mosely, Wright has seen action the past four games (13 carries for 41 yards) and has served as starter Elijah Collins’ backup the last two contests.
Hallock appeared in four consecutive games on special teams but didn’t travel with the team to Rutgers last week.
“Brandon Wright, now he's either a (backup or third-string back), depending on how much he's playing,” Dantonio said. “But again, a guy that we don't hesitate to put him in the game.
“We'll probably redshirt (Hallock), and then on it goes because we have a couple other guys in those situations as we go forward, going into the 13th game.”
Dantonio added his thought process is that players don’t redshirt until their fifth year. He cited how a pair of former defensive standouts, cornerback Trae Waynes and defensive tackle Jerel Worthy, both redshirted as true freshmen and left for the NFL Draft following their junior season.
And although the redshirt rule was made with true freshmen in mind, Dantonio noted how it can apply to any player. For example, sophomore receiver Jalen Nailor missed nine games with a broken foot before returning last week and junior offensive lineman Kevin Jarvis appeared in three games before being sidelined with a knee injury. Both would be allowed to take a redshirt season.
“My perspective, if you're playing 30 plays, if you're in the mix of playing, then you play on,” Dantonio said. “But you have discussions with your players to see what they want to do.
“We're trying to deal with them as individual decisions and let it play out. But you really can't forecast the future of what's going to happen.”
Michigan State has played 15 true freshmen this season, the most during Dantonio’s 13-year tenure. Of those 15, five have already appeared in more than four games and burned their redshirt: wide receiver Julian Barnett (11 games), long snapper Jude Pedrozo (11), running back Anthony Williams Jr. (10), Duplain (eight) and Samac (five).
“When you sit there and say, ‘Hey, I played as a true freshman and I was not redshirted,’ that's like a gold star on your shirt that you didn't redshirt as a freshman,” Dantonio said. “You were integral in terms of you playing and you consistently get more readiness and more coaching when you're playing.
“There is no experience like going out in front of 80,000 people or 75,000 people and playing in a game. Even if it's for one game. Even if it's for five or 10 plays. That's a tremendous asset to carry with you into the next season.”
Maryland at Michigan State
Kickoff: 3:30 p.m. Saturday, Spartan Stadium, East Lansing
Records: Michigan State 5-6, 3-5 Big Ten; Maryland 3-8, 1-7
Line: Michigan State by 22