Michigan State offensive line finally humming after injury-plagued season

Jack Allen’s stiff-arm on his nine-yard touchdown run last Saturday made him look like a natural. Michigan State’s 295-pound senior center made offensive linemen across the country jealous when he turned his dream opportunity to carry the football into a score.

“It gives a lot of fat guys like myself around college football some hope,” Allen said.

All of Michigan State’s "fat guys" are giving their team another degree of hope heading into Saturday’s Big Ten championship game against Iowa. After a season full of injuries led to 10 Spartans offensive linemen starting or playing significant minutes in 2015, the big guys up front are finally back to full health and clicking at the right time. With all the different hats Allen had to wear earlier this year to keep this group together, it’s no surprise he had success moonlighting in another position as well.

Michigan State has yet to start the same five players in the same five spots in more than two consecutive weeks this season. They’ve rolled out six different starting combinations, and rotated through several other players to help provide depth. Non-starters like junior Brandon Clemons and redshirt freshman David Beedle both got valuable experience.

That leaves the Spartans with an eight-man rotation which will help keep their offensive linemen fresh in postseason games. Co-offensive coordinator Jim Bollman thinks that depth can give his offense an edge, especially against a physical opponent like the Hawkeyes.

“I think they’ve been inching along and getting it back together and improving and pushing each other,” Bollman said. “They really do a good job of pushing each other and helping each other and using that depth. We’re kind of back to that situation now where we’re rolling seven or eight guys in there and if we can keep that up it will be very helpful.”

The line got back several people during the bye week at the end of October, but it took a little longer to regain chemistry. The Spartans were held to 143 rushing yards in the loss to Nebraska, the first time that the original starting lineup had played together since Week 2.

The group seemed to get its mojo back in the first quarter against Ohio State, in a 17-14 win that propelled Michigan State into the Big Ten title game. The Spartans controlled both lines of scrimmage and ran for more than 200 yards against a strong defensive line.

“I think it took a little time getting the fluency back with everybody working together and I think you saw it pay off in the Ohio State game,” left tackle Jack Conklin said. “Even in practice the week before we finally felt confident that we were going to be able to take care of the front.”

The challenges haven’t gotten any easier since then. They faced some of the country’s best pass rushers in a 55-16 win over Penn State in the regular season finale and at times opened up holes big enough for a 300-pounder to rumble through.

This week they square off with an Iowa defense that allows only 110 rushing yards per game, the sixth-lowest total in the FBS. Michigan State will need all the able-bodied blockers it can muster.