MSU’s LJ Scott steps into No. 1 running back role

Matt Charboneau
The Detroit News

East Lansing — The committee still exists, it just appears a chairman finally has been appointed.

That might be the best way to describe the Michigan State backfield following Friday’s season-opening 28-13 victory over Furman. While the Spartans hardly looked dominant against the FCS opponent, it became clear who the No. 1 running back will be in 2016.

That is sophomore LJ Scott, who started the game and carried 20 times for 105 yards and a touchdown. Sophomore Madre London had five carries for 14 yards while junior Gerald Holmes did not see the field with the offense.

“I think that he’s certainly earned the starting position and I think that he’s earned to be kind of the lead guy,” co-offensive coordinator and running backs coach Dave Warner said of Scott. “He’s done the most, especially throughout this camp in August. My plan was to play three running backs, but LJ was planning to get the majority.

“Moving forward, LJ is the guy. And those other guys, certainly, I want to get in there more than what happened tonight.”

While there still will be carries for London — and, it appears, even fewer for Holmes — that doesn’t mean each back doesn’t have value for the Spartans. However, it seemed evident at times in 2015 and has become clear now that Scott has the potential to be one of the best in the Big Ten.

Scott led the Spartans with 699 yards on 146 carries last season while scoring 11 touchdowns. His biggest game, of course, came in the Big Ten championship game when he carried 14 times on Michigan State’s 22-play, game-winning drive. He capped off the victory with an epic 1-yard touchdown run in the final minute against Iowa to lock up a spot in the College Football Playoff.

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But throughout 2015, there was little consistent work for any of the backs, which made it difficult for everyone.

“It was very frustrating,” Scott said. “The fact we couldn’t catch a rhythm and be on the sideline for 20, 25 minutes waiting for that guy to catch a rhythm and then the next one go in. But the fact Coach Warner was straight up about it this year and told us that it will be only two guys and one guy would get 20 carries or more. I respect the fact he said that and I had to work to go get it.”

That work came not only in big moments like the Iowa game and with big runs against Ohio State, but it came in preseason camp as the battle between the running backs was intense.

And Warner made it clear to all three that someone was going to get most of the work.

“I just tried to prepare myself for that,” Scott said. “Before I even knew I was starting I had an idea I would get the ball that many times. Coach Warner emphasized that all the time and I try to come through for the team.”

There is still work to be done for Scott and the offense as a whole. The opening touchdown drive was impressive, but from there inconsistencies took over. Penalties became a big issue and the offensive line is looking for the right combinations.

Scott is confident the offense will come together and there will be plenty more drives like the first, one that had special meaning for the sophomore who wears No. 3. It’s something Scott has been thinking about since the death of former punter Mike Sadler, who also wore No. 3.

“It was definitely an honor,” Scott said. “Like I’ve said before, I wear that number proud, I will always wear that number proud.”