Losing Jake Hartbarger - Rocky Has Big Shoes To Fill

Losing Jake Hartbarger - Rocky Has Big Shoes To Fill

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Losing Jake Hartbarger - Rocky Has Big Shoes To Fill

The injury that Jake Hartbarger sustained in Saturday night’s 16-13 loss to Arizona State is going to sideline the superb punter for 6-8 weeks. As we’ve said all along, Hartbarger has been as valuable of a weapon as the Spartans have had up and down the roster for years. Rocky Lombardi has big shoes to fill.

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There are plenty of college football coaches who, when given truth serum, come out and say that the punt is among the most important plays throughout the course of a football game.

It’s possible that Steve Spurrier never said that.

And, as long as we’ve brought up The Ole Ball Coach, does Steve Spurrier send Joe Germaine and the members of the 1996 Ohio State Buckeyes a Christmas gift every single year since, if it wasn’t for Germaine’s last-minute game-winning drive to defeat the undefeated Arizona State Sun Devils in the Rose Bowl on January 1st, 1996, Steve Spurrier would be no different than Terry Donahue (with all due respect to Donahue, of course)?

Anyway – Spurrier might never have seen the punt as all that important of a play but Steve Spurrier also was, at one point, the head coach of the Tampa Bay Bandits.

Spurrier also was the head coach of the Washington Redskins and that didn’t work out all that well for Spurrier or the Redskins.

But Spurrier would be recognized by most coaches as someone who didn’t have a whole lot of respect for the punt.

Mark Dantonio has had respect for the punt.

Mark Dantonio lost his punter on Saturday night against Arizona State when the Sun Devils – fairly – roughed Jake Hartbarger and caused Hartbarger to leave the field and the game, unable to return for the rest of the evening.

As it turns out, Hartbarger may not return for the rest of the season.

Michigan State announced that Hartbarger will miss 6-8 weeks after sustaining what Dantonio described as being a bone bruise and a possible fracture in his right leg.

Arizona State’s Tyler Johnson hit Hartbarger’s right shin with his helmet in an attempt to block Hartbarger’s punt with 5:14 left to play in the game and the score tied, 13-13.

Johnson’s hit on Hartbarger would have resulted in a roughing the kicker penalty and an automatic first down had it not been for Michigan State committed a false start prior to the snap.

Without that false start against Michigan State, the Spartans would have continued a drive that was looking like it had the chance to become a game-winning drive.

Instead, the Sun Devils got the ball – and the Spartans never got it back.

Sadly for Hartbarger, the incident had more ramifications than negating a first down for Michigan State.

We’ve been bullish – really bullish – on Jake Hartbarger for years.

In April of this year, we published this piece that shouted out the fact that Hartbarger was NFL-ready –

https://spartanswire.com/2018/04/30/jake-hartbarger-is-nfl-ready/

Take a quick look at the numbers Hartbarger had put up in the first two games of the season prior to being sidelined –

  • 6 punts
  • 48.8 yards per punt
  • Long of 74

It was only two games – but those are sensational stats.

Hartbarger finished last season with 69 punts, a 42.0 yards per punt average and a long of 62 yards.

Hartbarger was in the zone so far this season and his kicks were helping Michigan State from a field possession perspective – a huge element considering the team’s inability to hammer away in short yardage situations.

With Hartbarger now out having sustained this injury, the complexion of a major part of the scheme for Michigan State changes now that redshirt freshman backup quarterback Rocky Lombardi will be called upon to assume the punting duties for the Spartans.

Lombardi has a ton of potential to become Michigan State’s quarterback of the future while continuing to learn as much as he can as Brian Lewerke leads the team.

But it looks like Lombardi may need to diversify his portfolio immediately.

Despite being from Clive, Iowa, the dude looks like he should be playing quarterback for the UC Santa Barbara Gauchos.

Michigan State is fortunate to have Lombardi and it’s probable that an action figure in the mold and look of Lombardi will eventually sell many millions of units since Rocky Lombardi was born to be a star.

But Lombardi probably didn’t have it in his head that he’d need to focus on becoming the next Ralf Mojsiejenko.

The first thing that people are going to let their minds wander to is the obvious potential for countless fakes and trick plays with names like Hey Diddle Diddle Lombardi Up The Middle, Rocky & Bullwinkle, Vince Lombardi Was A Punter In Pop Warner, and maybe a Rocky Takes Down Drago.

Maybe since that notion is so obvious, it might actually be smart to, indeed, run fakes every time Lombardi drops back there.

Or, perhaps Dantonio just wants Lombardi to get kicks off.

I’d bet a Rocky Lombardi Bobblehead that Dantonio just wants Lombardi to focus on not……….having trouble with the snap……..and just getting off good boots.

The fans that like to chuckle about the importance of the punt and overall punt game probably never saw their own punter have trouble with the snap and allow a bobbled snap to lead to the opposing team converting one of the most improbable game-winning miracles in the history of college football.

The Spartans are needing to fill in some holes and address some areas of concern much earlier and much more than anticipated early in this 2018 season.

For Michigan State fans, here’s to hoping that Rocky Lombardi sees this as an opportunity to become a star in way he hadn’t envisioned – and in a way that helps his team be efficient, smart, and even powerful in an area of the game that carries far more weight than most people consider.

And, let’s wish Jake Hartbarger well – drink a gallon of milk every day to strengthen up that bone so you can be back out there firing off booming kicks sooner rather than later.

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