Sept. 29, 2012
By Steve Grinczel, Online Columnist
EAST LANSING, Mich. - Michigan State absorbed a significant blow when center Travis Jackson sustained a season-ending leg injury in the second quarter of Saturday's 17-16 defeat to Ohio State.
"That was a huge loss," said tailback Le'Veon Bell. "He's the quarterback of the line. He makes all the calls."
However, the Spartans are in a better position to deal with the loss of a second starter from the offensive line this season than in recent years, according to Ethan Ruhland, a fifth-year senior who finished the game in Jackson's place.
Although continuity and synchronization is critical to effective line play, MSU has seasoned depth and well-rehearsed backups.
"I work every week as though I'm starting, and I went out there and gave everything I had on every play for the team," Ruhland said. "To be honest, being an older guy, I've worked all those guys before and at the beginning of the year, we had six guys with starting experience."
Considered an area of strength going into the season, MSU lost second-year starting right tackle Fou Fonoti after the second game when he injured his foot in practice. He was replaced by Skyler Burkland, who started the first three games of 2011 before suffering season-ending ankle injury.
Jackson started the 15th game of his career against the Buckeyes, and while his leadership will be missed, Ruhland is confident he can man the position.
For one thing, as a member of the No. 2 offense last season, he has made more center-quarterback exchanges with Andrew Maxwell than Jackson had.
"Obviously, there are differences from guy-to-guy, especially at the center position, but also, luckily the past few seasons when Kirk (Cousins) was in there at quarterback, I worked with Maxwell when I was the No. 2 center and he was the No. 2 quarterback," Ruhland said. "We have that going for us, so we're used to each other already.
"O-line-wise, it's true that we're always ready. You can tell because (offensive line coach Mark) Staten rotates guys in to keep everyone fresh because he trusts that we are one unit no matter who's in there."
The preliminary diagnosis for Jackson, said head coach Mark Dantonio, is a torn medial collateral ligament and a fracture.
"We have different people we can move around," Dantonio said. "Travis Jackson was a very good football player and he was an inspirational and motivational leader, as was Fou. It's tough to see that and you feel badly for him as a player.
"This is when your faith is tested. He'll respond. I saw him in the locker room afterwards and his head was up. It's another thing we have to persevere through."
Ruhland has two career starts - earlier this season at left guard against Notre Dame and last season at center in the win over Minnesota - going into next Saturday's game at Indiana.
Blake Treadwell, a red-shirt junior guard and center who injured his leg in preseason camp, played on a limited basis against Ohio State.
"We've endured the loss of Fou and now Travis," said offensive coordinator Dan Roushar. "Those are two big hits, but those guys coming in will do a good job. I thought Ethan Ruhland held his own from where I was watching.
"Tready went in and took some snaps. He's still working toward being himself, but he's much closer. The timing couldn't be better for his return."