Detroit News writers Matt Charboneau and John Niyo break down Michigan State's 38-18 loss to Notre Dame. Matt Charboneau, The Detroit News
East Lansing — Everything that LJ Scott brings to the table — speed, explosiveness, vision — can all be trumped by an inability to hang onto the football.
For the Michigan State junior running back, fumbling has been an issue throughout his career as he entered 2017 with five fumbles, three having been lost. He then gave up the ball twice in the season-opener to Bowling Green, one coming at the goal line and the other getting returned for a touchdown.
It nailed him again in the Spartans’ 38-18 loss to Notre Dame on Saturday night as Scott looked like he was about to score on a 15-yard run in the second quarter, only to have the ball jarred loose near the goal line by Irish defensive back Shaun Crawford, who recovered the ball in the end zone.
“Nobody feels worse than LJ Scott,” Michigan State coach Mark Dantonio said. “He’s got opportunities there to stick it in (and make it) 21-14. I’m not going to go over and yell at a guy when he’s trying to make a play. These guys are trying to make plays, so I’m part of that, and I’m not going to be finger-pointing and saying, ‘You do this. You did that.’ We talk ball security and we work ball security every single day, seven minutes a day in drills.
“I don’t know how to handle those things except try to stay composed as best I can and wait for the next play.”
To be fair to Scott, his lost fumble was just one of three first-half turnovers that all led to Notre Dame touchdowns. But it was probably the most critical and it added to the growing concern that Scott simply doesn’t do a good job protecting the ball.
Scott now has eight career fumbles and has lost six — he’s lost all three of his fumbles this season — and his teammates were doing their best to keep Scott’s head up. Quarterback Brian Lewerke tried to encourage him, pointing out his own fumble and interception.
Senior linebacker Chris Frey went with the tough-love approach.
“It’s been a tough year for him for holding onto the ball,” Frey said. “I walked over today and kind of ripped into him a little bit. ‘We’ve talked about this multiple times. You got to hold onto the ball.’ He made a good play on the ball and LJ had time to pick that ball up and still score.
“LJ is another guy that has a ton of snaps under his belt and we hold him to a higher standard. We expect more out of him and he won’t get away with it easy. We’ll stay on him about holding onto the ball. We’ve preached it so much — we shouldn’t put the ball on the ground.”
Even with his issues, Scott has been Michigan State’s most productive back and the Spartans stuck with him in the second half. Senior Gerald Holmes and junior Madre London remain in the rotation, but Dantonio indicated Scott will still get plenty of work.
“We’ll look at that and try to make decisions,” Dantonio said. “All three of those guys are good backs. All three of those guys are going to do certain things. Again, when you look back at the history of our backs and what they have done here, there’s some value in looking at the history. We’ll look at that again and see how they play next game, and make some evaluations.”