October 21, 2011

Rock and OL look to build upon breakout performance

EAST LANSING - A rash of injuries during non-conference play slowed down the development of Michigan State's offensive line. But heading into this weekend's Homecoming showdown with unbeaten Wisconsin, the Spartan front five is playing with great confidence.

The Spartan offensive line has not given up a sack since their Week 3 loss at Notre Dame. And the unit has shown considerable improvement blocking the run, as evidenced by 213 yards on the ground against rival Michigan last weekend.

"Getting the running game going was huge," said redshirt freshman center Travis Jackson. "Having Chris McDonald and Joel Foreman and being able to play as a full O-line for these past three weeks has been awesome. They have been leading us and they are playing so well right now. When they play well, they elevate the play of the three other guys that don't have as much experience."

Foreman, McDonald, Jackson, Dan France, and Fou Fonoti will play their fourth game together as a starting five this weekend. The bye week between Ohio State and Michigan furthered aided the development of an offensive line that features three first-year starters.

"We want to improve every week and I feel like we've done that," explained Jackson. "Getting to play Ohio State, Michigan, Central Michigan, all good teams, has been exciting. Preparing for the Big Ten schedule, there is always a lot of intensity and a lot of fun to it. Getting to play these guys is exciting, they are No. 4 in the country coming in and every Big Ten game is going to be a big one."

Baker has not been as prolific a runner as he hoped he would six games into the 2011 season. But the Spartan junior, who rushed for 1,201 yards and 13 touchdown as a sophomore, has great expectations for the second half after rushing for 167 yards, a touchdown, and averaging 6.4 yards per carry against Michigan.

"I am going to take the most advantage of it that I can," said Baker about building on his best game to date. "I am going to go out there and run extremely hard as I did last week and as I have been doing in practice."

Baker was confident that the Spartan offensive line was ready for a breakout performance heading into last week's rivalry game with Michigan. "Everything happens for a reason and they are gelling now and we are ready to roll," he added.

The second-year starter believes the group is ready to take another step forward this weekend against Wisconsin.

"They are going to take the game that they had as motivation to get better," explained Baker. "I saw it today in practice. There is a lot of focus out there and communication. Thing where they made a mistake and they already know what they need to do this time. They already knew, they didn't need the coaches to tell them. That shows me that they are ready and they are going to help us build on that success. Good things come to those that wait and we have waited long enough to have the success that we are having now. Last week was just a little glimpse of it and we plan on capitalizing on that and moving forward to this weekend and having more success doing what we did last week."

Jackson has a healthy respect for Wisconsin's defensive line.

"Their D-line is awesome," Jackson said. "They are big guys, they move well, and they have some experience on the inside and good, good players."

Jackson relishes the opportunity to compete against physical, well-coached defensive linemen, who are assignment sound. After his first two games as a starter at center, the Columbus (Ohio) says playing football in the Big Ten is everything he hoped it would be.

"It really has been a dream come true, and a blessing from God," Jackson said. "It has been a lot of fun."

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