As he lay on the grass, screaming out in pain, it was clear Travis Jackson wouldn’t be able to walk off the field on his own.
But it wasn’t until after the MSU football team’s (3-2 overall, 0-1 Big Ten) starting center was carted off the field that the extent of his injury was known.
Following the Spartans’ 17-16 loss to Ohio State on Saturday, head coach Mark Dantonio confirmed Jackson suffered a torn medial collateral ligament, or MCL, as well as a broken leg and could miss the rest of the season.
Jackson is the second offensive lineman to miss extended time with injury, joining senior offensive tackle Fou Fonoti who required surgery for a stress fracture in his foot earlier this season.
“Travis is a very good football player and is an inspirational and motivational football player, as (is) Fou (Fonoti),” Dantonio said. “It’s tough to see that, and you feel badly for him as a player. This is when your faith is tested. He will respond. It’s another thing we have to persevere through.”
Senior Ethan Ruhland replaced Jackson during Saturday’s game, and redshirt freshman Jack Allen, who has been starting at offensive guard, played center throughout high school. Junior Blake Treadwell also returned to the field this weekend and, like Ruhland and Allen, has experience at multiple offensive line positions.
Still, offensive coordinator Dan Roushar said Jackson’s injury won’t be easy to make up for.
“It’s certainly a big loss,” Roushar said. “You’ve endured the loss of Fou and now Travis. Those are two big hits. Those guys who are coming in will do a good job. I thought Ethan Ruhland held his own from where I was watching. … Those guys are battling.”
With Jackson out, Le’Veon Bell struggled to find room to run, finishing with 45 rushing yards on 17 carries — his worst performance of the season.
The junior running back said Jackson has been a big part of his success, and said the injury has an even more dramatic effect than Fonoti’s because of Jackson’s numerous responsibilities as the “quarterback,” of the offensive line.
“He makes all the calls; he’s like the general,” Bell said of Jackson. “With him being a center, a lot of things change up front. He was a big loss. Ethan (Ruhland) did a great job coming in and filling in for him today. I hope Travis is OK.”
Yet it will be the Spartans’ actual quarterback, junior Andrew Maxwell, who will have to work to develop comfort with a new player snapping the ball.
Both Maxwell and Jackson have talked throughout the season about the strength of their relationship, and as a team captain, Maxwell said it will be important to make up for some of Jackson’s missing leadership.
“That’s a guy that people really looked to in the locker room as a leader; (he is) really respected and very well liked,” Maxwell said of Jackson. “Him going down is a lot like Fou going down, where you lose his experience and his leadership.”