MSU's Jefferson powers through with Scott sidelined

Matt Charboneau
The Detroit News
Michigan State running back La'Darius Jefferson, left, sprints through a hole created by offensive lineman Matt Allen in the second quarter on Saturday.

East Lansing — La’Darius Jefferson admits this is all fairly surprising.

At this time last season, Jefferson was a quarterback at Muskegon High. He was recruited heavily by Michigan State, but it wasn’t to throw the ball. Instead, the Spartans saw him as a runner.

On Saturday during No. 21 Michigan State’s 31-20 victory over Central Michigan, that belief came to fruition as Jefferson led the Spartans with 56 yards rushing while scoring on a 2-yard run, the first touchdown of his career.

“It felt really good,” Jefferson said of his touchdown run that put MSU ahead 31-3 in the third quarter. “It was power football. Just a shout-out to the O-line and the great blocking they did up front all day long. They were just kicking butt and Max (Rosenthal) at fullback with a dominating effort.”

The Spartans are testing the depth of their backfield these days as senior LJ Scott sat out his second straight game with an ankle injury and was replaced by sophomore Connor Heyward, who ran for 48 yards and a touchdown.

Redshirt freshman Weston Bridges also carried six times for 18 yards.

“I don't think that there is anything different that we game plan or call without LJ Scott in the game,” co-offensive coordinator Dave Warner said. “As far as LJ, he is a day-to-day deal and we want to get him back as soon as we can.

“We feel good about our depth at running back and some of those guys I think stepped up today. I think the offensive line has a big part in that. I think they gave us some opportunities today while at the same time I think we did a good job when there were creases of getting vertical and running with power.”

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At 6-foot-1 and 223 pounds, Jefferson has the power the Spartans are looking for. And despite a fumble last week, he has their trust, as well.

“La'Darius is a big back,” Michigan State coach Mark Dantonio said. “He's only played tailback for a couple months. He's been a quarterback for all his life really, and has been a very successful quarterback running the football. He has good vision, keeps his shoulders square, and has a low center of gravity for a big guy. He's almost 230 pounds and he's a very positive guy.

“I think conceptually because he was a quarterback he understands things. He's not afraid to compete. I thought all three of our tailbacks did a nice job. It was good to see.”

The Spartans gained 160 yards on the ground — still not great but better than it has been. And now that he’s getting comfortable, Jefferson believes he can be a big part of getting the running game rolling.

“It happened so fast, I just got thrown in there,” Jefferson said of his first appearance in Week 2 at Arizona State. “But like I said, I prepared like I was the starter and have gotten great advice from LJ, and when they gave me my opportunity I’m taking advantage of it. I try to make it seem like LJ is still in there, the offense not skipping a beat and not missing any assignments.”

Twitter: @mattcharboneau