MSU heads to Rutgers with bowl eligibility on the line

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MSU heads to Rutgers with bowl eligibility on the line

Antjuan Simmons against Western Michigan. (Credit: Zengyi Sun, Instagram: amazingsz)

Antjuan Simmons against Western Michigan. (Credit: Zengyi Sun, Instagram: amazingsz)

Zengyi Sun

Antjuan Simmons against Western Michigan. (Credit: Zengyi Sun, Instagram: amazingsz)

Zengyi Sun

Zengyi Sun

Antjuan Simmons against Western Michigan. (Credit: Zengyi Sun, Instagram: amazingsz)

Joe Dandron, Sports feature writer

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EAST LANSING — Mark Dantonio stepped to the podium on Saturday afternoon after suffering the largest defeat at the hand of rival University of Michigan. Faced with one question: what’s next?

The coach that has taken an MSU football program to unimaginable heights and his team had just lost 44-10 to the Wolverines.

MSU (4-6, 2-5 Big Ten) is two wins from being bowl eligible – or at least having a guaranteed spot in one – and heads to Rutgers (2-8, 0-8 Big Ten) this Saturday.

Here’s what to look for as the Spartans head to New Brunswick-Piscataway this weekend.

Nailor returns from injury, offense looks to improve

Jalen Nailor, who suffered a right foot injury earlier this year, was thought to possibly be available against Michigan during the annual rivalry game but did not appear. He has missed the last nine games for MSU.

Spartan fans were awarded some good news, in the thick of an up and down season, that Nailor would be returning to help what has looked like a young – but promising receiving core even in the absence of star wideout Darrell Stewart. 

“Jalen could have possibly played some,” said Dantonio on Tuesday. “But he hadn’t practiced. He really only practiced on Thursday. He hadn’t been hit, jostled around. Ball security, those type of things. We wanted to give an extra week to get his feet on the ground.”

The young wide receivers played and played well for much of a blowout loss in Ann Arbor, with true freshmen Tre Mosley and Julian Barnett playing nearly the entire game.

Barnett only had three catches for 29 yards and a 10-yard rush. But he looked comfortable on the field and may be a bright spot in the coming years.

“Yeah, we played a lot of young players. We’ll probably have to continue to do that. But they’re good players,” said Dantonio at his weekly presser. 

“Two years from now, what kind of offensive line are we going to have? Should be pretty good. Those guys are very good athletes, good players, but they’re young. You have to take that into consideration.”

MSU’s offense only totaled 220 yards of offense, with quarterback Brian Lewerke throwing two interceptions.

Dantonio will return as head coach in 2020

Despite one of the more forgettable seasons during Dantonio’s tenure and cries of fans for him to step down. Dantonio simply had one word when asked this Tuesday if he would be returning as MSU’s head football coach.

“Yes.”

So for the time being, Dantonio will remain at the helm in East Lansing for the 2020 season. 

With the loss to Michigan, the former Cincinnati head coach has a 24-24 record overall.

Dantonio was asked if any decisions would come with the rest of the coaching staff’s job status this Tuesday as well.

“I don’t make decisions on that until I weigh out everything to the best that I can,” said Dantonio. “Probably I have the most knowledge in terms of what’s going on within our football team as to who did what in terms of was that a player, structure, coaching, officiating, all the underlying things that go along with that.”

Injury report

MSU is still without Stewart, center Matt Allen, left guard Kevin Jarvis, left tackle Cole Chewins (out all season), and recently lost tight end Matt Dotson to a torn achilles.

Eight total starters on offense have not been able to suit up for MSU as the injury bug struck for a second straight season in East Lansing.

MSU players have missed a total of 66 games this season.

The matchup

It’s hard to imagine a situation where Rutgers upsets MSU. But also, not many expected Illinois to pull off a home win against Wisconsin, either.

MSU’s offense will try to bounce back after a tough loss to their in-state rival and will be hungry to qualify for a bowl game at 4-6 heading in. Rutgers, on the other hand, is often seen as a team that could never pose a threat.

Rutgers will try to salvage what remains from their 2-7 season thus far, but for an offense only averaging 15 points a game, it will be tough sledding.

Prediction: MSU 34, Rutgers 17