MSU head coach Mark Dantonio talks about the Spartans' ball-security issues, as well as preparing for Iowa. Matt Charboneau, The Detroit News
East Lansing — When LJ Scott showed up at Michigan State’s football facility on Monday, there was something waiting for him in the running backs meeting room.
Right there at his seat was a football, one running backs coach and co-offensive coordinator Dave Warner said Scott will have to carry around the facility all week, from meeting to meeting, from locker room to field. All the while, his teammates will be trying to knock it way.
Kind of funny, sure, but not exactly the position Scott believes he should be in. However, after his third fumble of the season against Notre Dame, one in which the ball was knocked free just as Scott was about to reach the end zone, the Spartans are resorting to whatever measures necessary.
“It’s funny, but then again it’s actually embarrassing because I should not be in this position at all,” Scott said after practice on Tuesday. “It is what it is, but it’s about how I bounce back and keep a positive mindset.”
Scott won’t be taking the ball to class, noting that he’s never seen the movie “The Program.” In that movie from 1993 about a fictitious college football program, the character played by Omar Epps had to carry a ball with him all day to help overcome his fumbling issues.
The junior back who has led Michigan State in rushing each of the past two seasons doesn’t think he needs to go quite that far.
“Somebody was telling me about a move where a guy had to duct tape the ball to his hands,” Scott said. “And I’m like, ‘I don’t need all that.’”
Scott’s fumbling woes go back to last season when he lost the ball early in the second half in a critical game against Wisconsin, which returned it for a touchdown to take control of the game.
The problems persisted in this season’s opener against Bowling Green when Scott fumbled near the goal line on the opening drive then fumbled again in the second half, that one returned by Bowling Green for a touchdown.
He didn’t lose the ball the next week against Western Michigan, but the issue popped up again in the second quarter against the Irish when it looked like Scott was about to score only to have the ball knocked free and recovered by Notre Dame in the end zone.
Scott insisted on Tuesday he doesn’t believe it’s a problem that will linger.
“The guy just made a great play,” Scott said. “He was able to get his hand on the ball and it came out. ... It doesn’t feel too good, especially putting my team in a situation like that where we’re going in and now we have to rebuild momentum.”
Michigan State coach Mark Dantonio agreed that Notre Dame defensive back Shaun Crawford simply made a good play. However, he’s also not cutting anyone any slack.
“You’ve got to hold on to the football. That’s just the nature of it,” Dantonio said. “We continue to work ball security drills and try and make them as game-like as we can. But there is nothing like the game when it’s real contact, real physical contact, and you really can’t simulate that totally in every practice. You can try. We certainly do try throughout the entire practice, but that’s something we just have to do. We have to do that.
“Same has to be said with our quarterback position, just have to handle the football, and can’t turn it over.”
That’s because Michigan State’s turnover woes aren’t limited to Scott. Quarterback Brian Lewerke has fumbled the ball away three times in three games and has thrown a pair of interceptions to add to Michigan State’s issues protecting the ball.
It’s something that hasn’t been a problem in the past for the Spartans, but after three games they rank 125th in the nation in turnover margin. A lot of that is because they’ve lost the ball eight times, but taking it away only twice — MSU has a pair of interceptions — is also a troubling trend.
“That’s the other part of the formula. So those have to come, as well,” Dantonio said.
“We worked hard at creating those. Sometimes they come in batches, sometimes you get hot. But those have to come as well. Those are the equalizing factors in a football game. ... We talk about what are the factors critical in winning in a football game, and we talk about that every single spring and summer practice and go over it again. Keys to winning. What’s the keys to winning every week? It’s turnovers.
“So, we’re coaching it. We’re trying to drill it. But, again, players make plays. You’ve got to play with reckless abandon, I think, on the football field and the ball has to come out. Sometimes it gets tipped, sometimes stripped, sometimes mishandled. It’s all of the above.”
So the Spartans will keep working on it. Lewerke will understand when to take a sack and when to try and make a play. And Scott will carry his ball around, hoping it stays connected on Saturday.
Iowa at Michigan State
Kickoff: 4 Saturday, Spartan Stadium, East Lansing
TV/radio: Fox/WJR 760
Records: Iowa 3-1, Michigan State 2-1
Line: Michigan State by 3