Michigan State running back Jeremy Langford has rushed for 1,338 yards and 17 touchdowns in 13 games this season. (Dale G. Young / Detroit News)
East Lansing — Here is the ritual for Michigan State running back Jeremy Langford after every touchdown. He walks the line. And he finds every huffing and puffing lineman on the bench and taps them on the helmet.
“Good job. Good job,” he says to his big guys.
Give the ball to Langford, and he’s the best in the Big Ten at making the big plays down the stretch to clinch games. But he knows he’d never be the man in the spotlight without his guys up front. When Langford feels the wind rushing through his helmet during runs, Langford does not run alone or celebrate alone. He knows his linemen play a big role. And the big hogs up front are just as happy as Langford after he flips the ball to the officials following a touchdown.
“Without them there is no me,” Langford said.
This is for Langford. He’d want it this way. Center Jack Allen, guards Dan France and Blake Treadwell and tackles Jack Conklin and Fou Fonoti make up the Spartans offensive line. They are the backbone and the lifeline of the Michigan State running attack and Langford loves when they get credit.
'Pound the rock'
Before the season, Langford was just as unknown as his linemen. Now after eight consecutive 100-yard rushing games he no longer takes a back seat to anybody. Langford has rushed for 1,338 yards and 17 touchdowns.
His interaction with the O-line goes well beyond running a football for touchdowns. This program is built on toughness and filling hungry players into spots. The defense is probably the hungriest moving part in this program. But the running game is not far behind.
During the grind of practice they hear the constant chirping from co-offensive coordinator Dave Warner, who keeps telling his players to “pound the rock.” They hear it during games, even when Warner is not on the sidelines. When plays do not work early they know the game plan of being tough inside won’t change.
“We pride ourselves on working hard,” Treadwell said. “We got to keep chipping away and eventually it (the defense) is going to crack and the gates will open. Our philosophy is we might not get what we want in the first half running the ball but we feel like if we keep working eventually something will break open.”
It usually does. Michigan cracked in the second half, with Langford’s 40-yard touchdown capping Michigan State’s 29-6 victory. In the Big Ten title game against Ohio State, Langford broke a run for 34 yards into Ohio State territory to set up a field goal.
He put the dagger in the Buckeyes when he ran 26 yards to turn a three-point lead into a 34-24 advantage. That sent the Spartans (12-1) to their first Rose Bowl since the 1987 season, where they will face Stanford.
“It is wearing people down,” Langford said. “People start hanging their heads and getting tired. Our offensive line never gives up. They keep working hard. I trust them and I keep running hard right to end of the game.”
Paving the way
The offensive linemen rarely get any kind of credit for paving the way from the public. That doesn’t bother the men up front. They get praise and criticism from coaches and Langford is so appreciative that he plans on taking them all out for a steak dinner when he gets a real job and can afford it.
“We all share in the glory,” Treadwell said. “It is all about moving the football and scoring. Every time we score we all know somebody had something to do with it. It is a shared effort.”
Langford studies game tape of former Michigan State running backs Javon Ringer and Le’Veon Bell. Although Langford is quicker and gets into the open field better, he wants to continue the tradition of being tough inside early and break big runs later.
“I stay patient,” he said. “You’ve got to keep playing and you’ve got to stay positive. And when you get the opportunity to hit that hole you got to hit it.”
And when he hits the hole and reaches the end zone Langford looks for the men that made it all happen.
“Without them there would be no holes for me to run through,” Langford said. “They work hard. It is not easy being in the trenches for four quarters. I thank them for that. They work hard.”