MSU's Connor Heyward on win over Maryland The Detroit News
College Park, Md. — Running the ball has always been the identity of the Michigan State offense.
At least, that’s what the Spartans are always shooting for.
Through the first eight games of the season, a consistent running game has been hard to come by as no Michigan State back had run for more than 100 yards in a game and the Spartans were 13th in the Big Ten, averaging just 107.6 yards a game on the ground.
All of that rushing frustration was finally expunged on Saturday in Michigan State’s 24-3 victory over Maryland. The Spartans ran for a season-high 269 yards with sophomore running back Connor Heyward gaining a career-high 157 yards on 15 carries while scoring on runs of 18 and 80 yards.
“I felt like I was picking whatever hole I wanted to go to,” Heyward said. “When you get in that rhythm and that flow it felt like anything was open and you want the ball more and more.
“Credit to the offensive linemen, the fullbacks, the tight ends and even the receivers. Without them none of this was possible.”
It helped on a windy day when throwing the ball was difficult. Michigan State threw for only 87 yards as quarterback Brian Lewerke managed to gain 45 yards on the ground.
“We wanted to run the ball 40 times,” Lewerke said. “That is the goal every time.”
Michigan State (6-3, 4-2 Big Ten) actually ran the ball 46 times for an average of 5.8 yards per carry. The Spartans did so without senior running back LJ Scott, who did not make the trip because of injury. He missed four games this season with an ankle injury but played in the last two games.
It didn’t hinder the Spartans as redshirt freshman Weston Bridges ran for 36 yards and freshman La’Darius Jefferson picked up 30 yards on 11 carries.
Even redshirt freshman fullback Max Rosenthal got in the act, though he didn’t carry the ball. He was in the right place at the right time when Heyward fumbled the ball near the goal line in the third quarter and pounced on the ball in the end zone for his first career touchdown.
“I made my block, kicked the guy out and Connor is good at fighting for yardage and he kept going,” Rosenthal said. “The ball came out and it was more of a reaction and I fell on it.
“I’m not sure where that goes in the stats, but it still feels good.”
Heyward was glad his teammate was there to give Michigan State a 17-3 lead at the time.
“I’m proud of him recovering that and scoring his first touchdown, but I’ve got to hold on to the ball right there,” Heyward said. "I probably could have went down then punched it in the next play. I’ve got to hold on to the ball in those critical moments.”