Injuries may change the face of the race in the Big Ten East Division.
Michigan State, which rose as high as No. 2 in the Associated Press poll before dropping to No. 7, is 6-0 for the first time since 2010, but bad luck and a challenging game Saturday at Michigan threaten its perfect record.
The Spartans (6-0, 2-0) have lost safety R.J. Williamson, a Dunbar grad, until at least the last regular-season game with a bicep injury. Before the season, they lost their top linebacker Ed Davis (knee). Then they lost cornerback Vayante Copeland, a Thurgood Marshall grad, for the season with a neck injury.
The offensive line has been especially hard hit. Injured linemen Jack Conklin and Josiah Price could return this week after missing time. Dennis Finley is out for the season with a broken leg. Jack Allen hurt his ankle Saturday against Rutgers. His status is day to day.
Michigan State’s health issues might be a big reason it has struggled the last two weeks to beat Purdue 24-21 and Rutgers 31-24.
“The bottom line is that we’re winning,” Michigan State coach Mark Dantonio said. “We’ve had good practices during the week, and the outlook is positive. Things happen and things change all the time. We’re a 6-0 football team and I keep saying it. Across the country, you watch what goes on every week. There’s tough games out there and we’re struggling and I think we’re getting everyone’s best shot. I’m sure next week will be a great game.”
Run threat: Ohio State hasn’t handled the quarterback run well in its last two games, giving up a 79-yard touchdown run to Indiana’s Zander Diamont and a 75-yard run to Maryland’s Perry Hills.
Penn State quarterback Christian Hackenberg isn’t known for his running. He’s been sacked 19 times and averages minus 5.7 yards per game. However, he rushed for two touchdowns Saturday against Indiana and had another 22-yard run.
“We talked to a lot of people in the off-season, and everybody talks about two first downs,” Penn State coach James Franklin said. “If a quarterback can get two first downs a game for you with his legs, you’re going to be in a really good position. Christian was able to do that (Saturday). I’ve been saying for a while that he has the ability to do that and it showed up.”
Historic streak: Michigan is the first Big Ten team to record three straight shutouts since 1980 when the Wolverines also accomplished the feat. Michigan leads the nation in scoring defense (6.3 points per game).
Freshman talent: Eight freshmen in the conference have rushed for 100 yards in a game this season: Minnesota’s Shannon Brooks and Rodney Smith; Wisconsin’s Dare Ogunbowale and Taiwan Deal; Michigan State’s Madre London and L.J. Scott; Penn State’s Saquon Barkley; and Purdue’s Markell Jones.
Network stars: The Big Ten Network will air “Big Ten Elite: 2014 Ohio State Football” at 9:30 p.m. Wednesday. The program takes viewers inside Ohio State’s run to the national championship and includes footage from inside coach Urban Meyer’s home during the College Football Playoff selection show.
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