Michigan State well-positioned for stretch run
The Michigan State Spartans are 8-0, and could be getting stronger. They haven’t been at full strength for quite some time, but their bye week could cure some ills. The break arrives at a good time for the undefeated Spartans who just might emerge from it healthier than they’ve been at any point this year, especially along the offensive line.
Having endured injuries to multiple spots up front, one of the program’s points of pride has been tested. The Spartans regularly play more than just their five starters up front, so they’ve been prepared to deal with injuries like this, but the bottom line is that they’ll need their best starting five for the final stretch.
The line’s pair of anchors – and best bets for next spring’s NFL draft — left tackle Jack Conklin and center Jack Allen have each missed time. Conklin has already returned to play in the team’s past two games, while Allen could be the important piece added when they face Nebraska after the bye.
With right tackle Kodi Kieler settled back in after missing three games of his own and left guard Brian Allen (Jack’s younger brother) OK after being knocked out of the team’s Week 8 game, the entire starting five could finally hit the field again on Nov. 7.
Carrying first-round potential and handling left-side duties in front of a QB who also has NFL aspirations (Connor Cook), Conklin finished 2014 as PFF’s third-ranked tackle (+42.2 overall) and this year sits eighth in the country (fifth in the Power 5) with a +16.2 grade. He’s allowed just two total pressures on 190 pass-blocking snaps for a pass-blocking efficiency mark of 99.2; fifth-best among the nation’s OTs.
Jack Allen led all Power 5 centers in run block grade (+15.1) last year but posted a brutal game of pass protection against Rutgers in Week 6 of this season (he had to play some left tackle that game in Conklin’s absence) that dragged down his overall grade (-0.6) just before missing time with his injury.
The younger Allen (+6.6, LG) as well as Benny McGowan (+9.7, RG) and Donavon Clark (+11.4, RG/RT) have been available for all eight games and have graded well, while Kieler’s +1.2 against Indiana was his first positive grade in three games following his time away.
This line given a chance to solidify – their leader plugged back into the middle, others not shuffling spots from week to week – should be a major concern for the teams remaining on the Spartans’ schedule and huge shot of confidence for a team that has already been finding a way to rank among the nation’s best teams. A Nov. 21 road trip to Ohio State figures to have major Big Ten and national title implications.