EAST LANSING, MICH. (AP) - Michigan State coach Mark Dantonio is rearranging the depth chart for his offensive line and not just because the group was ineffective last weekend.
The Spartans are facing mounting injuries up front, which could affect the team’s previously impressive running game and its ability to protect quarterback Kirk Cousins.
Tackle Skyler Burkland is expected to miss the rest of the season after dislocating his left ankle in Saturday’s 31-13 loss at Notre Dame. Dantonio disclosed two more injuries Tuesday, saying offensive linemen Jared McGaha and Blake Treadwell both have MCL injuries.
“We lose three offensive linemen in three or four days’ time, but you deal with it,” Dantonio said. “You stay the course.”
Dantonio hopes McGaha, a tackle with four career starts, can return for the Michigan game Oct. 15. Treadwell has started all three games at center this season. Dantonio said only that he’ll miss this weekend’s game against Central Michigan.
The offensive line was already a question mark for the Spartans after they lost three starters from last season, and now the team’s depth will be tested even more. McGaha was hurt in practice leading up to the Notre Dame game. Burkland and Treadwell were able to play but are out now.
“We always preach that the next guy’s got to be ready, because you never know when you’re going to get your time in,” guard Joel Foreman said. “As a player that’s out there, you never know when your last play’s going to be. … The next guy has been out there practicing, working just as hard in film and his playbook.”
Michigan State ran for only 29 yards against the Irish, and when the Spartans were trying to rally late in the game, they were called for several holding penalties that slowed down the comeback attempt. Two of those holding calls went against Foreman, a senior captain who didn’t recall being flagged much for that infraction last year.
“Maybe one, I don’t know,” he said. “So I’ve doubled it.”
Cousins threw for 329 yards on a career-high 53 pass attempts. The latter number was perhaps the biggest indication that the day didn’t go as Dantonio planned.
Edwin Baker, who ran for 1,201 yards last season, wasn’t much of a factor, and neither was fellow running back Le’Veon Bell.
“We have to put the ball in our running backs’ hands,” Dantonio said. “Our running backs are too good of players. We have to put the ball in those guys’ hands some kind of way.”
There’s a limit to what those running backs can do without effective blocking, and Cousins needs time to throw. The Spartans allowed two sacks last weekend.
“If you’re beat up, it’s going to be just as tough to pass protect as it is going to be to run the ball,” Cousins said. “It doesn’t really have any difference on play calling, one way or the other. We’re just going to go with what we’ve got. Injuries are part of the game, and every team’s dealing with them.”
Michigan State needs to correct its problems on the offensive line quickly. After hosting Central Michigan, the Spartans play at Ohio State. They’ll have an open date after that, but the rest of October will be crucial with games against Michigan, Wisconsin and Nebraska on the schedule.