Wednesday, September 23, 2020

As Harker, Whitticker step out, O-line needs help

September 28, 2001
Sophomore offensive guard Joe Patrick blocks Notre Dame defensive end Anthony Weaver from senior quarterback Ryan Van Dyke in the 4th quarter of Saturday’s 17-10 win over the Irish in South Bend, Ind. —

Things weren’t going smoothly for the offensive line midway through Saturday’s game at Notre Dame.

Redshirt freshman guard William Whitticker left the game with an ankle injury, and junior guard Paul Harker collapsed with a seizure on the sidelines.

But the MSU offensive line that has taken heat all season answered its critics and held up with two replacements as the game ended.

“They’re not as bad as everyone keeps talking about,” junior tailback T.J. Duckett said. “I’m confident 100 percent behind them. They showed it last week. We had two players go down and the younger players came in and stepped up.”

The offensive line will be asked to perform the same task this weekend at Northwestern, but this time for an entire game.

Sophomore guard Joe Patrick and sophomore tackle Joe Tate will replace Whitticker and Harker as starters Saturday.

And the line will constantly rotate players in and out of the game - even using guards at the tackle position, offensive coordinator Morris Watts said.

“There’s going to have to be different combinations because we don’t have enough people right now,” Watts said. “Some guys are going to have to be prepared to play guard and tackle. I can’t give a scenario because it could all change (during the game).”

Tate is the only player trained at both guard and tackle, but with the injuries, many others may be asked to do the same, Watts said.

“Usually you cross train one kid to play both guard and tackle,” Watts said. “If you train too many kids that way, they’re not getting better at one position. But when your numbers are down a little bit you have to cross train some people.”

And sophomore center Brian Ottney said the constant rotation of players with different speeds can hurt the total line flow.

“It’s hard to get used to playing with some of the guys when they’re changing,” Ottney said. “I don’t know how long it’s going to take. I assume it won’t take long because we have such a great group of guys and we all like each other a lot. We’ve always worked well together.”

It’s hard to get into a groove when you are coming in and out of the game, Patrick said.

“I just gotta go in there and compete and play hard,” he said. “Just play like its my last play. You can’t get nervous and get hyped up. You just have to go out there and get focused and play hard.”

But a few personnel switches may not be the biggest concern of the line. Its battle with inexperience and search for strength aren’t over, Ottney said.

“We need to make our weaknesses our strengths and our strengths stronger,” he said. “We can pick up the blitz better. We can know our assignments better, and we can pay attention to the snap count better.

“There are a lot of things everyone can work on. It’s not just those two guys.”

The offensive line is going to have to stay firm in order for MSU to post enough points against No. 16 Northwestern’s high-power offense, sophomore quarterback Jeff Smoker said.

“They run that no huddle, and they get a lot of plays in on offense,” Smoker said. “We got a great defense, but they’re bound to score at least a few points with as many plays as they get in. We know we gotta put some points on the board this week.”

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