MSU's Malik McDowell may miss second straight game

Matt Charboneau
The Detroit News
Wildcat quarterback Clayton Thorson (18) can't keep Spartan defender Malik McDowell from dropping his running back Justin Jackson (21) for a big loss.

For the first time in his three seasons at Michigan State, defensive tackle Malik McDowell missed a game because of injury when a bad left ankle kept him from suiting up against Rutgers last Saturday.

Whether or not the junior is back this weekend when No. 2 Ohio State visits Spartan Stadium is up in the air at this point. McDowell wasn’t listed on the depth chart released on Tuesday and coach Mark Dantonio said it was because of the uncertainty of the situation regarding McDowell’s injury.

“Right now, he's probably – he's out, but we'll see,” Dantonio said. “I don't want to list him as No. 2. He's not a No. 2, I just didn't know how to list him based on last week, he was out. So that's why we listed him as such. So, he'll either start for us or be unable to play. We'll see as the week goes.”

Missing McDowell for a game against the leading rushing attack in the Big Ten is far from ideal. Ohio State is gaining 267 yards a game on the ground and not having the potential first-round NFL Draft pick on the field won’t help slowing down the Buckeyes.

Redshirt freshman Mike Weber has run for 935 yards in 10 games for Ohio State while Curtis Samuel is the only FBS player with at least 600 yards rushing and 600 yards receiving. Add in the threat from quarterback J.T. Barrett who has run for 617 yards and eight touchdowns and the Spartans will be challenged up front.

“First guy you see is the quarterback,” Dantonio said of the Ohio State offense. “I think he has (98) career touchdown throws or runs combined. I think he's 23 touchdown passes this year to four interceptions. So, very productive. Curtis Samuels is a guy that has almost 1,400 yards of offense between running the football and catching the football, so productive football team with a lot of athletes.”

And Michigan State will be answering with a unit that is coming off its first shutout since 2013. However, it’s still a young group up front with three freshmen and a sophomore on the defensive line last week.

End Josh King and tackle Mike Panasiuk are true freshmen while tackle Raequan Williams is a redshirt freshman. End Robert Bowers is a sophomore, but his playing time has been limited before last week.

“Well, you got to learn fast,” Dantonio said. “Those guys are getting to the point in their season where they're not young freshman at least anymore, they're a little bit more experienced, and I think they grow each week, and they've got athletic ability.”

It’s been a crash course this season for King and Panasiuk as they try and adjust to Big Ten football after playing high school football just a year ago. Dantonio said he was able to gain a bit more perspective on the challenge the freshmen are facing by talking with former defensive end Shilique Calhoun, who was an honorary captain last week and was in town through Monday.

“I was talking to him a little bit about playing as a true freshman, which he did not have to do,” Dantonio said. “So there's a big learning curve there, but that learning curve, I think it's faster. I think you're going to learn more when you're playing than you're learning on the scout field. So there is a faster learning curve, but you got to grow up fast, so we'll see.”

Dantonio didn’t have an update on several other players who did not play last week against Rutgers. Cornerback Tyson Smith, fullback Prescott Line and linebacker Ed Davis did not play while running back Gerald Holmes left the game with an injury.

Whoever ultimately lines up on Saturday for the Spartans will be working just as much to prove they can play with the No. 2 team in the country as they will for trying to create chaos in a jumbled race for the Big Ten East title between Ohio State, Penn State and Michigan.

“You've got a little bit of added significance there, but I think more importantly it's how you are going to measure up,” Dantonio said. “Right now they're the No. 2 team in the country. This is what has been going on in the past. This is where we are right now. We've led in every football game, every football game, and I think we have been pretty competitive. We are where we are, but this is a way to move forward as a program. So you got to get yourself ready to play at highest level.”