MSU backfield takes shape with London, Scott

Matt Charboneau
The Detroit News

East Lansing — Two weeks into the season and the division of carries in the Michigan State backfield is starting to become much clearer than it was at any point in preseason camp.

After using three backs in the opener, the Spartans narrowed that two — redshirt freshman Madre London and freshman LJ Scott — in Saturday’s 31-28 victory over Oregon.

London earned the first 100-yard game of his career, picking up 103 yards on 18 carries, including a 62-yarder on the first play from scrimmage. And Scott got the first two touchdowns of his career, a 6-yarder in the third quarter and a 38-yard gallop in the fourth quarter that capped Michigan State’s scoring.

Scott finished with 76 yards on 11 carries and the Spartans had 197 for the game, averaging 5.3 yards a carry.

“We were able to, for the most part, run the ball pretty good,” co-offensive coordinator Dave Warner said. “We had some big runs, couple explosive plays right off the bat with Madre London, and in the second half when we needed one with LJ Scott.

“Overall, I think we ran the ball pretty darn good. We had some chances in the second half to solidify and put things away, but we went three-and-out twice, which is disappointing for us. It’s something to work with, and we're just happy to come out with a win.”

The odd man out in this game was sophomore Gerald Holmes, who ran for 54 yards and a touchdown last week.

“Gerald Holmes was supposed to get in, but we weren't able to get him in — feel bad about that,” Warner said. “Madre obviously started out hot and LJ got hot in the second half, so we were just able to stay with those guys.”

Junior Delton Williams also didn’t play for the second straight game and seems more likely each game to be headed for a redshirt year.

But coach Mark Dantonio said the carries will continue to be decided each week based on which players are producing.

“We'll see how we go, how we practice,” Dantonio said. “I think we are have four very good running backs but it's tough to get them all carries. And you want to get them moving … I thought both those guys performed very, very well, and LJ Scott, two touchdowns tonight, and that was exciting for him as a true freshman. But we've been saying all along, we've got good players and they have got to find an identity. So it's exciting to see that. And again, we have others, as well.”

Special teams sputtering

After giving up a 100-yard kick return last week against Western Michigan, the Michigan State special teams struggled again on Saturday.

Byron Marshall returned a kickoff 49 yards early in the first quarter and Bralon Addison took a punt back 81 yards for a touchdown in the third quarter.

“Now it's time to clean up things,” defensive end Shilique Calhoun said. “There's a lot of things we still need to clean up. But once we get it all together, that train, it just keeps going. It was slow at first but once we get it going, it's going to be unstoppable.”

Limping along

The Spartans have been relatively healthy this season, but got a couple of players banged up on Saturday.

Junior right tackle Kodi Kieler left the game in the first quarter with what appeared to be a leg injury. Kieler went down on a running play and was helped off the field while not putting any weight on his right leg and later went to the locker room using crutches.

Junior Miguel Machado replaced Kieler on that series but the Spartans later moved right guard Donavon Clark out to right tackle and put Benny McGowan at right guard. Machado returned in the second half as he and McGowan split time.
Redshirt freshman cornerback Vayante Copeland was knocked out in the fourth quarter and did not return.

Also, sophomore linebacker Drake Martinez was not dressed for the second straight game. Dantonio said earlier in the week the absence of the junior college transfer had nothing to do with discipline, which means he is likely suffering from a minor injury.

Extra points

Michigan State has won six of its last eight games against ranked opponents. Overall, Michigan State has won 28 of its last 31 games, dating back to the 2012 regular-season finale . . . The Spartans are 5-1 (.833) in their last six games against AP Top 10 teams.

… Michigan State wore its alternate third uniform on Saturday, the first time the jerseys have been unveiled since they were redesigned in the off-season.

Connor Cook’s two TD passes Saturday makes him just the third QB in MSU history with 50 or more career TD passes, joining Jeff Smoker (61) and Kirk Cousins (66).

Aaron Burbridge recorded his third 100-yard receiving game of his career and second in as many games with 101 yards on eight catches against Oregon. His eight receptions against the Ducks matched his career high.