EAST LANSING, Mich. — This season’s Michigan State football team did something no other Spartans team had done in seven years. As you might image given how this season has gone so far, that wasn’t a good thing.
The Spartans have rectified that issue in the last couple of weeks with something as simple as an attitude adjustment, an adjustment that has helped them do something they hadn’t done in two years. That is a good thing.
Michigan State rushed for 211 yards in a 32-23 loss to Michigan on Saturday, giving it back-to-back 200-yard rushing games as a team for the first time since Nov. 15 and Nov. 22 in 2014. That comes on the heels of games against Brigham Young (85 yards) and Northwestern (51) in which it failed to rush for at least 100 yards in consecutive games for the first time since 2009.
The two are connected.
“It starts with an attitude and two weeks ago when we didn’t run the ball very good, we made the decision that we needed to force it upon our offense to run the football,” Michigan State offensive coordinator Dave Warner said Saturday after the loss to Michigan. “Our offensive line took that as a challenge, and the last couple of weeks they’ve done a good job of it. I think our lines have been blocking well, for the most part, and I think our backs have been running hard.
“Just like when things don’t go right, it’s normally a team deal. Someone is screwing up here, screwing up there. When we run the football (well), I think it’s our whole team doing a good job.”
Sophomore LJ Scott ran for 139 yards and a touchdown on 22 carries. He had 128 yards last week at Maryland when Michigan State rushed for a season-best 270 yards. This is the first time in Scott’s career that he has had consecutive 100-yard games.
Scott touched the ball on 11 of the 12 plays on the opening drive, carrying it 10 times for 49 yards and catching the only pass of the drive for a 12-yard completion on third-and-8. He finished off the drive with a 5-yard touchdown run that gave the Spartans a 7-0 lead.
The drive took 7:02 off the clock. It was the second-longest drive of the season, missing by one second of equaling an opening touchdown drive of 7:03 against BYU.
As has been the case this season, whichever back starts the game, the other plays the second possession. Holmes started against BYU and Northwestern. Like Scott did on Saturday, Holmes ended the first drive against BYU with a touchdown run.
“Gerald deserves to play,” Spartans coach Mark Dantonio said. “LJ carried the ball quite a few times on that drive, so we probably rested him. We were going to play two tailbacks a little bit, and that was an opportunity for Gerald to get the ball.”
Holmes ended up with six carries for 14 yards against Michigan. The Wolverines came into the game allowing an average of just 96 yards rushing. The frustrating part was that twice on short-yardage fourth downs, Michigan State was stopped short of converting. Holmes was stopped on fourth-and-1 from the Michigan 38 early in the second quarter when the game was tied 7-7. Scott was stopped on four straight plays from inside the Michigan 3 in the third quarter when the Spartans had a shot at cutting into a 27-10 halftime deficit.
Despite those stops, the run game is in a better spot now than it was two weeks ago.
“I think it’s a mentality, and then I think it’s an execution thing,” senior tight end Josiah Price said. “When we’ve got all 11 guys working on the same page we’re going to run the ball pretty darn well like we did today.
“I do think it’s a huge thing to do with mentality. We came out there ready to play today. We came out we had mojo. Our M.O. this week was that we were going to run the ball on them, we were going to pound the ball on them. We didn’t care how or what or why. We showed that.”
Kevin Goheen covers Michigan State for Landof10.com. Follow him on Twitter at @CincyGoGo