Young Spartans get extra work as poor season winds down

Matt Charboneau
The Detroit News
Tyriq Thompson (17)

East Lansing — For the past nine seasons, Michigan State has spent most of December preparing for the Big Ten championship game or a bowl.

Or both.

All those possibilities are essentially lost this season, although a three-game winning streak to close the season and some luck there aren’t enough bowl-eligible teams would give the 2-7 Spartans a shot.

But realistically, Michigan State has three games left, and a little more than two weeks of practice. That means the extra work many young players might have gotten in bowl preparation is getting mixed in now.

“We’ll use our young players,” coach Mark Dantonio said. “We’re using them already. There are guys — Luke Campbell, Matt Allen — they’re No. 2. We don’t want to take the redshirt off them. He’s the No. 2 center, Matt Allen. Luke Campbell is the No. 2 left guard. They’re getting work. ... Noah Davis gets work at tight end.

“I think if they were where they were right now at the beginning of the season, those guys would be playing some, those three.”

It’s the same for plenty of other freshmen. Dantonio mentioned last weekend offensive lineman A.J. Arcuri is getting reps with the No. 2 offense, and co-defensive coordinator Mike Tressel said cornerback Austin Andrews is also seeing more time during the week.

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And throughout the week, the young players are getting pushed harder.

“We normally go hard on Tuesdays and Wednesdays during the season,” Tressel said. “But we went particularly hard (this week) and we are trying to get young guys in more live scenarios probably than normally would at this point, probably, because you anticipate not having a bunch more practices coming up, so coaches trying to get young guys as much experience as possible.”

There also are plenty of freshmen who are already playing and seeing increased snaps on Saturdays, especially on the defensive line (ends Josh King and Auston Robertson, and tackle Mike Panasiuk).

And it’s not just the true freshmen seeing more time. Plenty of redshirt freshmen are getting work.

On defense, tackle Raequan Williams has been playing all season, while Tyriq Thompson has gotten some increased time at linebacker.

“He took a big step forward with that (Michigan) game,” Tressel said of Thompson. “We told him going into that game, ‘Hey, you’re going to have an opportunity to get some reps in this game.’

“He went out and did a good job, so the confidence grows. And also our confidence in him grows and that momentum hopefully can continue to build because he is doing a good job.”

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On offense, the increased reps have been coming along the line. True freshman Thiyo Lukusa has seen limited work at right tackle, but redshirt freshman Tyler Higby has started five straight games at right guard and redshirt freshman Cole Chewins played left and right tackle last week.

“I’ve still got a lot of work to do,” Chewins said. “We’ve still got a lot of work to do as a unit and as a program so that’s what we’re focused on and we’re building toward that.”

It’s all in an effort to make sure the Spartans don’t have a repeat performance of 2016.

Rutgers at Michigan State

Kickoff: Noon Saturday, Spartan Stadium, East Lansing

TV / radio: BTN / WJR 760

Line: Michigan State by 14

Records: Rutgers 2-7 (0-6 Big Ten), Michigan State 2-7 (0-6)

Twitter @mattcharboneau