Riley Bullough's hasty exit in 1st quarter raises flags

Matt Charboneau
The Detroit News

College Park, Md. —  After missing three straight games with a shoulder injury, linebacker Riley Bullough returned to the lineup for Michigan State last week against Northwestern.

On Saturday at Maryland, the fifth-year senior was hardly around long enough to break a sweat in Maryland’s 28-17 victory, the fifth straight for the Spartans and the first time they’ve lost five in a row overall since 1991.

That’s because by late in the first quarter, Bullough was out of the game because of a hit on Maryland wide receiver D.J. Moore that was called targeting. The call was confirmed by replay and Bullough was gone.

But it wasn’t the only problem Bullough had. The targeting call was his third penalty of the first quarter and all three were personal fouls. The first came on Maryland’s first play from scrimmage when Bullough hit Teldrick Morgan out of bounds and the second came two plays before the targeting call when Bullough was hit with roughing the passer on Perry Hills.

“Yeah, it’s disappointing,” Michigan State coach Mark Dantonio said. “It’s tough to say with the helmet-to-helmet. Some thought it was shoulder-to-shoulder but they make the call. I’m sure he is not trying create those penalties.

“The hit out of bounds is tough for me to see and then the roughing the passer. Too many penalties in the first half. … Right there you got issues.”

Bullough was replaced by freshman Joe Bachie, who played for the first time this season.

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“It’s tough, especially because we see him as the leader of our defense,” junior linebacker Chris Frey said of losing Bullough. “Just like we go back two weeks ago when he wasn’t playing. But as you go through you see Joe Bachie came in for his first snaps and from what I feel on the field he did very well. He took control of the defense and became the leader we needed.”

Rolling the dice

Dantonio has had his share of success calling trick plays, but with the willingness to call them comes the reality of what happens when they fail. That downside was on clear display late in the second quarter on Saturday.

With just one second left in the first half and the game tied at 14, Brian Lewerke hit R.J. Shelton for a 21-yard gain to the Maryland 28. The stiff breeze was at Michigan State’s back and Dantonio called on the field goal team.

But instead of kick or leave his offense on the field, Dantonio called a fake that saw kicker Michael Geiger gain 4 yards, well short of the end zone.

“I thought it was a good play, I thought they were set up for it,” said Dantonio, who referenced a fake from Geiger last year that he almost scored on against Penn State. “I thought with one second to go it was a 45-yarder, we were running the ball well enough, we were passing the ball well enough and I thought points would come and we were looking for a big payoff.

“It was a 45-yarder, so it was a gamble we took and that’s on me.”

Geiger’s career-long field goal is 49 yards back in 2013. He made one from 48 this season against Wisconsin.

Fresh approach

Michigan State continues to go to true freshmen as Bachie and safety Kenney Lyke saw their first action on Saturday, bringing the total to nine true freshmen that have played this season.

And as each game passes, all nine are seeing significant action. Bachie moved ahead of junior Shane Jones and came in for Riley Bullough after sophomore Byron Bullough did not make the trip because of an injury.

“Joe is a very good football player and quite honestly he’s our second MIKE linebacker if we were going to have to play him full time,” Dantonio said.

Lyke played more because of undisclosed injuries to starting safeties Montae Nicholson and Demetrious Cox. Sophomore Khari Willis and redshirt freshman David Dowell played in the base defense while Lyke was in the nickel.

“He’s a good football player and an active guy,” Dantonio said of Lyke. “We tried to hold him and not use him, but we had two safeties out, so we’re gonna have to play them. He’ll show up on other things now.”

Offensive tackle Thiyo Lukusa saw his most extensive work at right tackle while defensive ends Josh King and Auston Robertson and defensive tackle Mike Panasiuk were in the regular defensive line rotation. Wide receiver Donnie Corley was held without a catch for the first time this season and receiver Trishton Jackson didn’t get on the field.

Injury update

Michigan State has had its share of injuries this season and at least six regular contributors didn’t make the trip to College Park while a few more were lost.

Junior linebacker Jon Reschke (ankle) missed his fourth game while offensive lineman David Beedle (knee) didn’t travel after getting hurt last week. Defensive backs Grayson Miller and Drake Martinez as well as defensive end Evan Jones and linebacker Byron Bullough did not travel with undisclosed injuries.

And during the game, Nicholson and Cox left while cornerback Vayante Copeland missed most of the second half.