Facing NFL quality defensive line talent in Michigan's Aiden Hutchinson and Kwity Paye didn’t seem like a great place to put together their best performance in protecting the quarterback, until it did.
Michigan State's offensive line looks to build off Northwestern performance
That’s the story of the Michigan State football offensive line over the course of the last few seasons.
After a near 200 yard rushing performance and not allowing a single sack against Northwestern, the Michigan State offensive line is looking to put the injuries and inconsistencies behind them by finding some consistency in their play.
Chris Kapilovic, MSU's offensive line coach, is the leading force behind the road to consistency. Before coming to Michigan State, Kapilovic spent one season with Michigan State head coach Mel Tucker at Colorado and several as the offensive line coach and offensive coordinator at North Carolina.
“He’s relentless on the details, he does not let anything slide ever ... and for him it’s either good enough or it’s not good enough,” Tucker said. “It’s not just ‘that was a ... decent job’ or ‘that was pretty good’ it’s either good enough or it's not good enough.”
Kapilovic’s main goal is to create continuity with a unit that hasn’t had it since its glory days in the early 2010s with multiple players heading off to the NFL each season.
“... we need to build continuity,” Kapilovic said. “A lot of these guys have been injured and up and down throughout their career so just trying to get them to be consistent, practice every day, and play every week is going to start to see us pay dividends there. Continuity is critical there, but you do want to get to a point where you have some competition where you can play a few other guys.”
The continuity is a double-edged sword that falls on both the coaching staff and the players themselves. Thus far, Kapilovic said he has been encouraged with the effort in his unit.
“These guys want to get better, they come to work every day, I think they’re hungry and they see that they can improve,” Kapilovic said. “That’s encouraging, that excites you as a coach to come every day and have another opportunity to get better on the practice field and take it into Saturday. We should ... improve through this season and through this offseason."
“There’s a long way to go, but I really believe that we can get there.”
Flashes of their potential came up in their most recent game against Northwestern where the entire offense in the run game was seemingly able to click.
“... they played extremely hard and they’re starting to play with intensity, pad level and technique that you’re looking for,” Kapilovic said. “I think our running backs ran harder, they were specific about hitting the holes. ...throw in Lombardi and with him making some good checks and also taking the ball when it became available puts a lot of stress on defenses.”
In addition to some of the wide receivers and tight ends throwing blocks out in front, Kapilovic felt that Kevin Jarvis and AJ Arcuri have been his most consistent contributors throughout the season.
“... we’re depending on those two quite a bit,” Kapilovic said. “They know that and they’ve played in practice through those minor bumps and bruises and injuries. If you look at these two from game one to Saturday night, they’ve improved quite a bit. Which again, I think a lot of that is being able to practice on a daily basis and play a lot."
A lot of young guys have also gotten some reps this season, including Nick Samac due to the injury of Matt Allen this year as well as his experience last year when he got some playing time.
“Nick has steadily improved,” Kapilovic said. “Nick’s got a lot of athletic ability, he’s really athletic for an interior guy at center, you’ve seen him moving around. He’s got to continue to get stronger and build a bit more of a base in his weight, which he’s working on.”
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“The thing that has stood out is he’s starting to calm down and the game is slowing down to him, he’s able to make the calls we need him to make to get us into the right positions.”
Michigan State may have its toughest test yet this weekend as Big Ten heavyweight Ohio State travels to East Lansing with their always highly talented defense.
(6:50 Rocky) “... I think everything that you guys saw last week, we can do every week,” Lombardi said. “I don’t understand why we can't. For us it’s just making sure we communicate on the offensive line, making sure that we’re blocking the right guys and that everybody is communicating and working together. We can’t have two guys blocking the same guy, we can’t have guys missing blocks and get in the spot and move the chains.”