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MSU mailbag: LJ Scott leads RB committee; resetting expectations

Matt Charboneau
The Detroit News

Things are starting to heat up at Michigan State as the football season has reached the halfway point and basketball gets rolling this week with Big Ten media day.

In this week’s mailbag, we do our best to hit all sorts of topics, from the revival of LJ Scott in the running game to where Michigan State might finish now that it sits 5-1 midway through the season. We also get some basketball in here, as the race for the top recruit in the nation for 2019 starts to get interesting.

LJ Scott appears to have once again established himself as Michigan State’s lead running back, despite some fumbling issues.

■ Question: Ok, is it still going to be backfield by committee or is the faith restored in Scott even with the latest fumble? — @TEhrbright

■ Answer: Well, let’s be honest, it’s always been backfield by committee to a certain extent. Though, at the same time, LJ Scott always has gotten more carries than Gerald Holmes or Madre London. Last season, Scott had 184 carries while Holmes had 91 and London 28. That distribution already has come much closer to evening out this season, as Scott leads the way with 83 carries, followed by London with 54 and Holmes with 38.

Injuries have had a say in some of that, as Holmes did not play last week and Scott missed the Michigan game, but I’d expect a similar distribution moving forward, if for no other reason than it’s stayed pretty consistent over 21/2 seasons. There’s no doubt Scott has the most upside and the coaches believe that, too, so he’ll get more work than the other two. But any thought that Scott will start getting Jeremy Langford-like work seems a bit far-fetched.

■ Q: What are the chances we get to see a one-loss MSU play an undefeated PSU? — @lucaswestblade

■ A: The Captain Obvious category — the chances are far better now than they were before the season began. I wouldn’t have given the Spartans any chance to be 7-1 overall before the season began. In fact, I’m quite sure I had their record at 4-4, so once again, what do I know?

At this point, though, I’d almost be surprised if Michigan State wasn’t 7-1 by the time it hosts Penn State on Nov. 4. By no means do I believe Indiana or Northwestern will be guaranteed wins, but I don’t believe there’s any doubt Michigan State is the better team right now. The biggest question mark for me is Northwestern. I know the Wildcats haven’t played well, but I just have a hunch they’re better than their record shows (and it might have something to do with the fact I picked them to win the West). But Ryan Field in Evanston usually becomes Spartan Stadium West, so I’m leaning toward Michigan State winning there, too, and setting up an interesting matchup with the Nittany Lions.

■ Q: Any juniors with a SERIOUS opportunity to skip last year and declare for NFL? — @chuckgsparty

■ A: I’d have to say the only junior with any opportunity to skip his last season would be LJ Scott. But how serious? That remains to be seen. The production hasn’t been there overall, but I thought the same thing about Montae Nicholson last season and where’s he at now? The NFL, of course. Also, add in the fact running backs have a limited number of carries in their careers, meaning an early move to the NFL isn’t out of the question.

As for any other juniors, it would be a shock. Wide receiver Felton Davis, linebacker Andrew Dowell and safety Khari Willis would fall in that category, as well. Bottom line, I wouldn’t count on any early entries for Michigan State.

■ Q: I just watched the All-Access show. What’s the significance of the white sledgehammer that Naquan Jones carried onto the field in Ann Arbor? — @KevinHPark1

■ A: It’s something the defensive line started this season called the Destruction Sledgehammer. It’s basically handed out each week for whoever the guys believe was the most destructive during the game. They don’t carry it around campus or anything, but they’ll have it in the locker room, take it to meetings, that sort of thing. A couple of weeks ago, Mike Panasiuk carried when the team made the walk from the Kellogg Center over to Spartan Stadium.

■ Q: If there is good weather for Indiana will we try to run as much as at Minnesota or will they try to balance the play calling? — @UpDeckJerkGuy

■ A: I would expect Michigan State to strive for a bit more balance. You’re right, the weather played a huge role in the way the Spartans approached each of the last two games, something Mark Dantonio has talked about a couple of times. But there are some playmakers in that receiving corps and they can’t always just be good blockers. The interesting thing for me will be to see how much more work Hunter Rison and Cody White get. Both have been seeing increased reps, and Rison had a couple grabs last week. They’ll also look for Brian Lewerke to bounce back from what would have to be described as an off week at Minnesota.

Michigan State freshman Hunter Rison, shown here against Iowa, had a pair of catches against Minnesota in rainy conditions after seeing his reps increase along with classmate Cody White.

■ Q: I had the o/u for season at 8 and figured 7 would be the QB accidentally running into a DL. But these guys are playing great. — @bhiggins42

■ A: OK, so not much of a question, but let’s jump into it. As I said earlier, I had MSU at 6-6 this season. I didn’t venture from that after the Iowa win but started to after the victory at Michigan and certainly have amended my prediction now. I’d go with 8-4, only because I think with a young team there could be something that happens that loses a game to a team that isn’t better than MSU. I don’t think the Spartans beat Penn State or Ohio State, meaning they could be 9-3. But with a young roster, I feel like there COULD be a slip-up somewhere. However, 9-3 wouldn’t shock me at this point.

■ Q: How high should I be getting my hopes up for Vernon Carey? — @lucaswestblade

A: A second appearance in one week for Lucas, but it was worth getting something in on this. Carey was on campus a few weeks ago and I’d say Michigan State is right in the thick of it. Of course, who can really get a handle on basketball recruiting. At this point it sounds like Duke, Miami and Michigan State might be the best bets.