Injuries the big obstacle facing No. 2 Michigan State
EAST LANSING, Mich. (AP) — Forget style points, poll rankings or the playoff discussion.
Right now, the big issue facing Michigan State is injuries.
The second-ranked Spartans open Big Ten play this weekend against Purdue, and although their lofty preseason hopes are still very much intact, this Michigan State team is not at full strength. The Spartans have already lost linebacker Ed Davis and cornerback Vayante Copeland for the season, and offensive lineman Jack Conklin and tight end Josiah Price were hurt in last week’s win over Central Michigan.
Conklin appeared to have an injured knee, and Price was using crutches for support on the sideline toward the end of the game. It’s not clear how severe their injuries were. Coach Mark Dantonio said Tuesday he had no new season-ending injuries to announce.
“No injury update,” he said coyly. “Amazing how young people, how fast they heal.”
Dantonio doesn’t often give updates on injuries, but he’s sometimes willing to disclose if a player has been ruled out for the season. That didn’t happen Tuesday.
Conklin and Dennis Finley are both listed as possible starters at left tackle on this week’s depth chart. Tight end is also up in the air between Price, Jamal Lyles and Paul Lang. Safety RJ Williamson, who was also shaken up Saturday, is atop the depth chart at his position.
“This is Tuesday. We’ll see what happens by Friday or Saturday,” Dantonio said. “Usually we’ll make those announcements prior to the game, if they are not able to play in the game, that’s when we’ll make them.”
Michigan State entered the season with aspirations of winning the Big Ten and reaching college football’s four-team playoff. A win over Oregon earlier this month made those hopes seem like a real possibility, but some of the luster came off that victory when the Ducks lost 62-20 to Utah last weekend.
In its other three games, Michigan State beat Western Michigan, Air Force and Central Michigan. None of those games really came down to the wire, but the margins of victory weren’t huge.
The Spartans lost Davis before the season started to a knee injury, and Copeland played two games but is now out with a fractured vertebra. Conklin, a 6-foot-6 junior, is a big part of an offensive line that was supposed to be a strength for Michigan State. If he’s out for any extended length of time, the pressure will be on Finley to perform.
Finley said he felt more comfortable as last weekend’s game progressed.
“I feel like once you get out there out on the field, it definitely builds,” he said. “It builds your character, it builds you as a player, because you’re not going against the same guys.”
Connor Cook, Michigan State’s star quarterback, has to depend on his left tackle, so Finley’s progress is important. Finley played in six games last season as a redshirt freshman, and there was obviously a spotlight on him last week.
“I think there were some butterflies that he had to get rid of,” Cook said. “We have all the confidence in the world in Dennis. Jack’s right there, coaching him up, telling him what he needs to do and what he needs to improve on.”
Price, meanwhile, is a top target for Cook around the end zone. He’s already caught four touchdown passes this season, and if he’s limited going forward, that would be a concern for Michigan State.
It probably won’t be clear until later this week what Conklin and Price will be able to provide against Purdue, but playing shorthanded is something the Spartans have had to get used to.
“Coach D always says we’re not going to let an injury be the reason why we lose a game,” Cook said. “We have plenty of depth here at all positions.”