East Lansing – The last year has been one of the most challenging of Ed Davis’ life.
In August 2015, Davis was preparing for his final season at Michigan State, an outside linebacker coming off an impressive 2014 season and expected to be a first-team All-Big Ten player.
But on the first day wearing full pads in camp, Davis tore the ACL in his right knee. His senior season was over,
“It was real tough,” Davis said. “Seeing my class leave, everybody that I came in with go on to different things, it was real hard.”
The 2015 senior class ended as the winningest in school history, winning another Big Ten championship along the way and reaching the College Football Playoff.
But there was a glimmer of hope for Davis.
Michigan State planned to petition the NCAA for a sixth season of eligibility for Davis as soon as he earned his undergraduate degree. His final class was completed in mid-August and the paperwork was submitted.
It took longer than expected, but during the bye week, the NCAA granted Davis one more season. And against Notre Dame last week, Davis made his debut.
“I persevered and got closer to God and he helped me through that time,” Davis said. “But I wouldn’t take it back.”
Getting Davis comfortable is the biggest challenge. He played one play against the Fighting Irish, and the goal remains for him to build confidence.
Michigan State linebacker coach Mark Snyder talks about the return of Ed Davis.
“We wanted to play him a little bit more but once the quarterback broke out on a run and Chris (Frey) had to run him down, we knew Ed’s not quite there yet,” linebackers coach Mark Snyder said. “No doubt (it’s confidence). But he’s getting better in that, he’s getting better every day. You see more and more confidence in it and there is still a ways to go but he’s coming every day.”
No. 8 Michigan State is as deep as at any time at linebacker, so there will be no rush to get Davis back. But there’s little doubt he could help. In 2014, Davis had 12 tackles for loss, including seven sacks.
And he’s confident he’ll return to 100 percent soon.
“Not being able to practice the whole summer while waiting (was hard),” Davis said. “I still have to get my feet back and haven’t played in over a year. So week by week, I’m just working back, getting back to my old self. I’m very close, I’m getting there each and every day.”
Saturday’s game is the return to Spartan Stadium for Davis, who happens to be the only player on the roster who has played against No. 11 Wisconsin.
“It’s gonna be crazy,” Davis said.
Michigan State QB coach Brad Salem talks about the progress of Tyler O'Connor.
O’Connor has passing grade
Through two games, the coaches have been satisfied with the play of fifth-year senior quarterback Tyler O’Connor.
“You felt very positive in how he played, performed and you feel like he kind of made the turnaround,” quarterbacks coach Brad Salem said. “He made winning decisions with the football, decisions where to throw the football, when to tuck it and run and so obviously very positive in how he performed.”
It’s not to say O’Connor has been perfect, but the numbers have shown efficiency. O’Connor is 32-for-44 for 431 yards and five touchdowns, but he also has two interceptions. The second came inside the 5-yard line against Notre Dame.
“Maybe consistency through reads, feet and eyes through the progression and maybe not rushing a couple of them,” Salem said of the areas O’Connor needs to improve. “But I think he’s going to keep getting better.”
Seeking a spark
Michigan State has been talking since camp about becoming explosive with kick and punt returns, but through two games, not much has happened.
Against Notre Dame, senior R.J. Shelton struggled with letting some punts hit the ground.
Snyder, also the special teams coordinator, said much of that is on the staff and where they positioned Shelton. That said, they are looking to redshirt freshman Darrell Stewart for a spark.
“Darrell is explosive,” Snyder said. “He’s got to do two things — ball security and I’ve got to be able to trust him with making good decisions. Right now, RJ is making good decisions. Whether that ball bounces or not, get the ball back. That’s who we are.
“I’ve told (Stewart) numerous times, he’s the one that’s got the breakaway ability. He is. He’s the one that can make stuff happen in the return game, but I’ve got to be able to trust him.”
Wisconsin at Michigan State
Kickoff: Noon, Saturday, Spartan Stadium, East Lansing
Line: Michigan State by 5
Records: 11 Wisconsin 3-0 (0-0 Big Ten), 8 Michigan State 2-0 (0-0)
Series: Michigan State leads 30-22 (Michigan State 16-13 OT, Oct. 27, 2012)