Bob Wojnowski, John Niyo, Angelique S. Chengelis and Matt Charboneau talk about Michigan State's win over Michigan and what's ahead for each team. Detroit News
East Lansing — With three running backs who all have started and been productive in their careers, Michigan State coach Mark Dantonio has clung to the approach that the Spartans will play the “hot back.”
More often, that seems to be junior LJ Scott, who entered last week’s game at Michigan the leader in carries (58) and in rushing yards among the running backs (227).
But Scott didn’t play against the Wolverines because of an injury Dantonio didn’t disclose, only saying Scott was “nicked up,” and that he didn’t want to risk further injury. And in the first half, fifth-year senior Gerald Holmes, who started for the fourth time this season, injured his ankle.
That left junior Madre London, who was the starter in 2015 before injuries sidelined him, as the main man. He made the most of that opportunity, reeling off a 50-yard run while finishing with 59 yards on 10 carries and catching a 16-yard touchdown pass.
“You always come in ready,” London said. “You always stay ready. I kind of knew I would be playing in the game because LJ was kind of banged up and it was a game-time decision for him, and I didn’t think G (Holmes) would go down so early. But he came down and that’s what we come to Michigan State to do, to step up and make plays when other players are down. They did it in 2015 when I was down. That’s what the game is all about. It just shows how much strength we have in the running back corps.”
That strength has been on display ever since 2015 when London started the first six games before a leg injury sidelined him. Holmes took over from there as the starter while Scott was busy leading the Spartans in rushing and scoring the winning touchdown in the Big Ten title game.
The same sort of three-man rotation was used last season and it’s in place now. No one has stood out this season, but Dantonio is prepared to use all three.
“I’ve always counted them as starters,” Dantonio said. “I don’t care who plays. I just care whoever is playing gets a hot hand. We’ve yet to do that really, get the hot hand. All of a sudden a guy starts running for over 100 yards. But that’s coming.”
The injuries to Scott and Holmes aren’t believed to be serious — Holmes continued to play a limited workload against Michigan — but London showed he still has the ability to make big plays.
His touchdown catch took the proper patience, allowing for his blockers to lead a path to what London called his easiest touchdown. And later, when London went for 50 yards, it was a disciplined approach.
“I was watching a lot of film and it was just staying tight on the counter,” London said. “Stay tight and next thing you know it’s off to the races. It was kind of shocking. I got through a tight hole, squeezed through without tripping. So, it was exciting.”
London believes he can make the same sort of plays on a consistent basis if he gets the chance.
“Obviously, it builds confidence for you and people have confidence in you, so it’s a good thing,” London said. “There are more plays to be made, though.”
Don’t dwell on drop
Michigan State did a good job of making big plays in the win over Michigan, but one missed opportunity could have changed the scope of the game.
It came late in the first half when Trishton Jackson dropped a pass that would have given the Spartans a first down inside the Wolverines 20. Instead, MSU punted and was unable to score again.
Wide receivers coach Terrence Samuel said Wednesday that Jackson did a good job of moving on from the play.
“They’re their own worst critic,” Samuel said. “They don’t need me behind them saying, ‘You dropped the ball.’ Some things are just obvious. What you try to get them to do is just move on to the next play, move on to the next play with as much aggressiveness and confidence as you can possibly have, because that’s what sets you apart in your game is your aggressiveness and your confidence.”
“He was upset. He expects more out of himself. He expects more. He has speed. He has ability, all the quickness. Like I said, when something like that happens, you’ve just got to bounce back from it.”