Running game comes together when Spartans need it

Matt Charboneau
The Detroit News
Michigan State's LJ Scott (3) rushes against Maryland during the second half.

East Lansing — Michigan State knew things were gonna be messy on Saturday, it was something the Spartans contemplated all week as they prepared to host Maryland in the final home game of the season.

But bad weather or not, there was a clear offensive game plan for No. 22 Michigan State — run the ball.

It’s something coach Mark Dantonio has hung his hat on since taking over in 2007 and while the Spartans have had their share of high-powered offenses in that time, they’ve never ventured far from their identity as a team that wants nothing more than to run the ball down its opponents’ throat.

That’s been tougher this season, and entering Saturday’s game, the Spartans hadn’t run for 100 yards or more as a team in the previous four games.

That all ended in a 17-7 victory as LJ Scott ran 29 times for 147 yards as Michigan State gained 271 as a team, the second-highest output this season. Gerald Holmes added 64 yards rushing while quarterback Brian Lewerke gained 63.

“We need to be balanced, but we came into the game knowing we needed to run the football,” co-offensive coordinator Dave Warner said. “That was a big emphasis all week and we did a good job. Our guys up front did a great job blocking. I think LJ and the backs ran hard. The defense brought a great game to give us some good situations and then we should have put it away in the first half.”

More: Henning: Spartans style prevails in 'tough' conditions

Putting it away might have come if Holmes hadn’t fumbled at the 1 in the second quarter. It was the first fumble of the season for the fifth-year senior.

“I was running hard and being me, but when I fumbled I drew a blank,” Holmes said. “It’s something I try and pride myself on not doing. I had the ball secure and was trying to split two defenders and the defensive end made a good play on me.”

It kept the Spartans off the board but it hardly slowed the overall running game.

Scott’s 29 carries were a career high and the 147 yards were his third best. He ran for a career-high 194 yards this season at Minnesota and had 160 yards last season against Ohio State.

On a slick field, Scott didn’t dance against the Terrapins, making one cut then getting up the field.

“I just did a better job of trusting the guys up front would get that block for me to bust it out,” Scott said. “Those guys up front did a nice job and I was able to be patient because of those guys up front and I hit the holes the way I did.”

Added Dantonio, “LJ had a great game and he made some great cuts and got vertical and broke some tackles.”

The Spartans (8-3, 6-2 Big Ten) entered the game averaging just 147.5 yards a game rushing, good for only seventh in the Big Ten. While the running backs haven’t been consistent, the young offensive line has had its share of struggles as well.

Against Maryland, that unit took control of the game.

“I think it looked very, very good,” Dantonio said. “It got movement and changed the line of scrimmage and then the rest of it just was the running back I thought once you got to the second level, things of that nature. Gerald Holmes did as well. He got to the second level at times and ran the ball effectively. Had an opportunity to go ahead 21-zip early, it would’ve been in the second quarter I believe, but good hit by them, the ball comes out so we deal with it.