Holmes pushes to be MSU's lead back

Matt Charboneau
The Detroit News

East Lansing — It took a while before Gerald Holmes noticed things were different last week at Nebraska.

Michigan State’s sophomore running back started for the second straight game, but he’d never carried the ball more than 10 times in a game. Against the Cornhuskers, Holmes not only started, but he was also the main ball carrier for the Spartans, something that has been evolving all season.

“It did (surprise me) once I noticed I was still in there longer,” Holmes said. “But after a while you just focus on the game and winning, so whenever your name is called, you just have to execute.”

Holmes did that, carrying 22 times for 117 yards, both career highs, and adding a 1-yard touchdown run.

With Jeremy Langford off to the NFL, one of the most important things for the Michigan State coaches to decide coming into this season was who would step in to fill that void. Last spring, Holmes and redshirt freshman Madre London got most of the work as junior Delton Williams was suspended and true freshman LJ Scott would not arrive until preseason camp.

Once the Spartans came together in August, it appeared London and Scott were beginning to emerge, something that was reinforced in the first few weeks. They got the bulk of the work while Holmes had one real shot, carrying nine times for 54 yards and a touchdown in the opener against Western Michigan.

But he didn’t get a carry the next week against Oregon and ran only three times against Air Force. However, just as it appeared London and Scott were strengthening their grip on the position, Holmes scored two late touchdowns against Central Michigan to ice the game for Michigan State.

It seemed more work was in his future — or not.

Holmes didn’t have a carry against Purdue and after London was hurt at Rutgers, it was Scott and Williams who got most of the work. Then, after eight carries against Michigan, Holmes was suddenly the starter against Indiana.

It didn’t lead to a lot of work as Holmes, Scott and Williams split the carries evenly, which led to Holmes being surprised by how much he handled the ball last week, especially with London back from a leg injury he suffered against Rutgers.

“It’s hard to say (if I’ll keep getting as much work),” Holmes said. “The coaches make the decision at the end of the day, and it’s just about being ready, and I’ve been saying that every time I’m in. You’ve got to be ready when your name is called. My name was called early and I kept producing.”

Coach Mark Dantonio wouldn’t commit to Holmes taking over as the No. 1, however, as all four backs were listed as co-starters this week, and it still seems that London and Scott have the inside track to more carries.

But with London still working back from the injury and Scott apparently dealing with a shoulder problem, there’s a shot Holmes will be the main guy again on Saturday against Maryland.

“Madre London was not quite ready, very close,” Dantonio said. “Delton played a little bit. LJ Scott was hampered a little bit with a shoulder and was not having as much success, so that’s the direction we went in. To say (Holmes is) the clear-cut guy, I would not say that. I would say it’s still sorta who’s hot.”

Holmes relishes the chance to be that hot guy. He thought he played fairly well against Nebraska, even though No. 14 Michigan State suffered its first loss and Holmes gained just 2 yards on two carries on the final drive.

He said the focus was on ball security, but he still wishes he would have been able to pick up a first down.

“Obviously, we fell short and can’t take it back,” Holmes said. “We wish we could, but we just got to move forward from it.”

Holmes will do so, understanding he wasn’t perfect last week, pointing out how he could have picked up a first down on the opening drive instead of trying to make a big play. The result was the Spartans turning the ball over on fourth down.

But he also believes he’s made a case for being the primary back for the Spartans.

“The biggest thing is I kind of showed the coaches that whatever you give me I will make the best of it,” Holmes said. “I had little mistakes and I’m beating myself on the head about the first down I could have gotten if I’d gone to the inside. But at end of the day, I was there to make plays when the coaches called on me.”

mcharboneau@detroitnews.com

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Maryland at Michigan State

Kickoff: Noon Saturday, Spartan Stadium, East Lansing

TV/radio: ESPN2/WJR

Line: Michigan State by 15

Records: Maryland 2-7 (0-5 Big Ten), No. 14 Michigan State 8-1 (4-1)

Series: Michigan State leads 5-1 (Michigan State 37-15, Nov. 15, 2014)