East Lansing – Michigan State isn’t about to pin its 30-6 loss on Saturday to Wisconsin to playing without linebacker Riley Bullough, but it sure didn’t help.
The fifth-year senior captain missed the game for what was likely a shoulder injury, but Michigan State was not giving any specifics on the nature of the injury. After last week’s victory at Notre Dame, Bullough had a large bag of ice on his right shoulder.
During the game, Big Ten Network reporter Lisa Byington said the injury happened before the Notre Dame game and there was some question as to whether Bullough would play against the Irish.
After the loss to Wisconsin, co-defensive coordinator Harlon Barnett lamented the absence of Bullough but said the Spartans expected Bullough back soon.
“You always miss a leader, and really good football player, obviously,” Barnett said. “But the way we stopped the run and held up in that way, I don't think we missed him as much as I thought we would have. You miss the leadership and things like that more than anything. When things really start to go haywire and you need guys to step up and lead.
“As far as his timetable, I'm really not sure -- it's probably a weekly thing. But he will be back.”
Junior Shane Jones got his second career start and finished with six tackles, including two for loss. Sophomore Byron Bullough, Riley’s brother, also played.
“I thought Shane Jones played pretty well, but we played pretty well against the run,” Michigan State coach Mark Dantonio said. “I think Riley, from the sideline, did a great job. Those are the things that you have to deal with, that's all a part of this. A couple of the players have not played, and we’ve still won. So that's not an excuse.”
Jones wasn’t sure he was getting the call until the last minute.
“I didn't know until right before the game,” Jones said. “I was just trying to step in and show some leadership for the defense. The way we look at it, it's always the next man up. There should be no dropoff. That's the way I looked at it, and that's the way the defense looked at it. They had confidence in me, and I had confidence in them.”
Michigan State’s depth at linebacker will be tested. Junior Jon Reschke also got banged up in the game, suffering what appeared to be an ankle injury in the second half. That left it up to Jones, Andrew Dowell and Chris Frey the rest of the way with a little help from Ed Davis, who played a handful of plays after getting just one snap against Notre Dame.
Entering Saturday’s game, Michigan State had played two true freshmen – wide receiver Donnie Corley and defensive tackle Mike Panasiuk.
Against Wisconsin, four more joined in as wide receiver Trishton Jackson and offensive lineman Thiyo Lukusa played, as did defensive ends Josh King and Auston Robertson.
“We took the step across the line,” Dantonio said. “We're going to play them.”
It could be especially critical on defense, where the pass rush has lacked and at least three more players will be gone after next season.
“We wanted to play them earlier,” Dantonio said of King and Robertson. “You're always going to be hesitant to play them, but they're good players. If they are going to gain game experience, then we need to play those guys. With our situation, with bringing some graduate transfers in, we are going to lose those guys. We need to have guys with game experience coming back.
“They're outstanding athletes, and they're big and physical and had game experience, so they could get their feet on the ground.”