Speedy London-Scott tandem fuels MSU offense

Matt Charboneau
The Detroit News

East Lansing — Forgive Michigan State quarterback Connor Cook if he felt like he was handing the ball off to one of the NFL’s top running backs last weekend.

It wasn’t Le’Veon Bell, it just seemed that way on the decisive play in Michigan State’s victory over Oregon.

And it had nothing to do with the fact the current Steelers star, the third-leading rusher in the NFL last season, was standing on the sidelines as Michigan State’s honorary captain.

No, Cook was just that impressed watching true freshman LJ Scott break an arm-tackle as he burst through the right side of the Oregon defensive line and outrace cornerback Arrion Springs to the end zone in the fourth quarter.

It was the second touchdown of the game for Scott, and the second of his career, as he finished with 76 yards on 11 carries. The final touchdown also proved to be the winner, and Cook immediately likened the run to one he saw from Bell a year before Cook joined the Spartans.

“When I handed the ball to LJ and saw him break those tackles and kick into an extra gear, kind of reminded me of Le’Veon back when he was a freshman,” Cook said. “I was at the Notre Dame game (in 2010) when they won in overtime, and just watching the runs that Le’Veon broke — LJ reminded me of Le’Veon during that game.”

It’s quite the comparison, though Scott has been getting that for a long time. At 6-foot and 230 pounds, Scott bears a striking resemblance to Bell.

But looking like him is not what the Hubbard, Ohio, native is striving for. He’d love to have the production Bell had, but knows only two games into his career, there is a lot more to accomplish.

Niyo: MSU-Ohio State clash will decide Big Ten

“It felt good,” Scott said. “But I’ve got to get better every day. I have to focus on the next thing in front of me.”

What’s next for No. 4 Michigan State is Saturday’s meeting with Air Force. What’s next in the offensive backfield remains to be seen.

As camp opened, it was a four-player race between Scott, redshirt freshman Madre London, sophomore Gerald Holmes and junior Delton Williams. While Holmes scored in the opener, he didn’t paay against Oregon. Williams hasn’t played at all.

After the Oregon victory, it is becoming a two-person operation with Scott and London taking control.

“I ask our coaches how we’re going to play the players,” coach Mark Dantonio said. “I listen to them. They spend the time with them in the meetings. They spend time with them watching practices. It’s a pretty fluid situation because I think we do have four. Any one of those four could become the guy.

“But this last week I thought (London and Scott) played pretty well. They both had significant amount of carries. It’s just hard to split carries with three backs.”

London, who scored his first two career touchdowns in the opening victory over Western Michigan, had his first 100-yard game against Oregon. He carried the ball 18 times for 103 yards and began the game with a 62-yard run that set up the opening touchdown.

The rotation has worked well, London insisted, and said he believes Holmes will get back on the field this week. But regardless of playing time or number of carries, London said each of the runners has to be ready.

“We were brought in to be play-makers so whenever your name is called you gotta make that play,” London said. “Opportunities aren’t a dime a dozen.”

Dantonio emphasized Tuesday the idea of riding the “hot guy” while offensive coordinator and running backs coach Dave Warner is making sure each strives to be a complete back, focusing as much on pass protection as running the ball.

“That’s the most important thing,” Scott said.

However the carries are divided, Cook will be content watching the young backs aspire to perform like Bell.

“I know they are young, but they just continue to get better, that’s the good thing,” Cook said. “But when it gets to the lack of experience that (Scott) and Madre both have and the way they run, they are playing like veterans, especially on a big-time stage.”

mcharboneau@detroitnews.com

twitter.com/mattcharboneau