EAST LANSING, Mich. — Keeping track of the new names and faces heading onto the field might have been the toughest job at Spartan Stadium on Saturday, other than playing, of course.
The final official tally saw eight freshmen and nine redshirt freshmen making their debut for Michigan State in the 35-10 win over Bowling Green. But even the official participation report couldn’t keep track of everyone. Freshman tight end Matt Dotson made it 18 total, and 247Sports’ Jeremy Warnemuende has the visual proof.
Matt Dotson not included in the participation report, but he was definitely one of nine true freshmen who played today. pic.twitter.com/FCyCQ2lkg8
— Jeremy Warnemuende (@JSWarno247) September 3, 2017
A 32-point lead going into the fourth quarter gave Michigan State the freedom to experiment with some different lineups. Senior quarterback Damion Terry stepped in and replaced Brian Lewerke for three drives. But the separation wasn’t the reason for the youth movement.
“Those guys you saw on the field today, they were going to play,” co-defensive coordinator Mike Tressel said Saturday. “That was the plan, and there will be a couple more you’ll see over the course of the next couple weeks, I believe. They were ready.
“What we were able to do this year for the first time, bring them in a little bit earlier and teach them a little bit more, do a little bit more football during the summer. They were ready to go, but it’s also a special group of kids, so that was the plan.”
Leading up to the season, Dantonio listed eight freshmen who would play in 2017: Dotson, offensive linemen Kevin Jarvis and Jordan Reid, wide receivers Cody White and Hunter Rison, defensive end Jacub Panasiuk, linebacker Antjuan Simmons and tight end Jack Camper. All played Saturday, except for Camper.
Cornerback Josiah Scott’s inclusion was implied. It had been talked about since shortly after he enrolled early. On Saturday, he became the third freshman to start in a season opener under Dantonio, joining Mark Dell in 2007 and Isaiah Lewis in 2010. He recorded an assisted tackle for loss and a pair of pass breakups in his debut.
The list had a few other deviations. Laress Nelson, a former 2-star wide receiver (per the 247Sports composite ratings) and Michigan State’s lowest-ranked recruit, not only entered but recorded his first career catch for 5 yards. Camper, on the other hand, is likely one of the remaining players who Dantonio hinted will play.
Eighteen young Michigan State players took part in a college football game on Saturday. Compare that to only 11 seniors who played for the Spartans. Playing such a young squad couldn’t be avoided this season, but it sure doesn’t sound like the staff rues it.
“I think you might see even more get on the field because we’ve got some guys that can play on special teams that I think will show themselves,” Coach Mark Dantonio said. “We’ve got some young players playing and that does not include redshirt freshman out there. That’s exciting because they get their first taste of what it’s like to play in Spartan Stadium, and they’ve been looking forward to that opportunity.”
Ideally, Tressel has said, players wouldn’t step onto the field until their third year in the program. That’s how it has often been in the past. Until that point, they typically don’t know the system as well as the staff would hope.
Now the Spartans have guys like linebacker Joe Bachie, a sophomore middle linebacker in his second year with the program, leading the defense with 10 tackles. This is Michigan State now. Its intended rewards will be reaped in the next few years. If it leads to more wins in 2017, that’s even better.
“I think we did a great job as young guys stepping up,” Bachie said. “Obviously we’ve got a lot to learn from. There were plays that stuff could have happened, but it didn’t, so we’re grateful for that. Our young guys are going to step up and they’re going to continue to learn, including me and including [senior LB] Chris [Frey]. Older guys have to learn too.
“For Game 1, we got the win, and that’s all that matters.”
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