Oct. 12, 2013
By Steve Grinczel, MSUSpartans.com Online Columnist | @GrinzOnGreen
EAST LANSING, Mich. - Lorenzo White may have written the book on running the ball against Indiana, but Jeremy Langford and the rest of Michigan State's rushing attack added a new chapter Saturday afternoon in the 500th game at Spartan Stadium.
With White and other members of MSU's 1987 Big Ten Championship team looking on with the rest of the Homecoming crowd, Langford paced a breakthrough performance for the offense and himself in 42-28 victory that paid homage to the past and possible made a statement about the future.
Langford didn't match the 286 yards, on 25 carries, White had against the Hoosiers as a sophomore in 1985. Nor did he come close to the school-record 56 carries White had, for 292 yards, while leading the Spartans to a Rose-Bowl-bid-clinching victory two years later.
However, Langford did score four touchdowns against the Hoosiers, which is something White never did against anybody. More importantly, he helped establish the run, which in turn allowed Michigan State to control the ball, which in turn limited the opportunities Indiana's quick-striking, Big Ten-leading offense had to wreak havoc.
And, Langford and his fellow ball-carriers, most notably freshmen Delton Williams and R.J. Shelton, finally broke loose for the explosive plays that had been largely lacking from the Spartans repertoire thus far.
Langford established career highs for carries, with 23, and yards with 109, though is first score came on a nifty 11-yard screen pass from quarterback Connor Cook to tie the score at 7-all early in the second quarter. He had a 5-yard scoring run just before halftime and one from 2 yards out in third to bump up Michigan State's sagging red-zone efficiency, and sprinted for a 32-yarder to break the game open later in the third.
"I knew one game I'd break out if I stayed positive," said Langford, MSU's first 100-yard rusher of the season. "It was important to me, but it's more important that we win. But I'm happy and excited."
Langford's speed had grown to mythical proportions through the first two-plus seasons of his career, but was heretofore largely unseen until he turned it loose, with a little power mixed in, against the Hoosiers.
"It was just a matter of hitting the hole and staying positive," Langford said. "I knew eventually, I'd get one. We just came out and played hard, and gained the yards, and were breaking tackles, and making somebody miss.
"That's what we were missing, that's what we were doing it in practice, and that's what we did today."
As big of an accomplishment it was for the Spartans to rush for 238 yards, it would have been an even bigger indictment if they weren't able to move the ball against a defense that had been allowing a league-worst 212.2 rushing yards per game.
And by combining a productive ground game with Cook's 22-for-31 passing for 235 yards, two touchdown and one interception, MSU's offense finally was what head coach Mark Dantonio and his staff thought it could be - balanced, diverse and potent.
"That's the lifeblood of our offense," said co-offensive coordinator Dave Warner. "Any time you can run, you can mix in the play-action pass and throw the ball downfield and create big plays. That was pretty evident today. Jeremy got a crease and took it, which we've been waiting on.
"It makes it easier for the quarterback and it makes it easier to call plays. You have a lot of plays to choose from when the running game's working. That's what we said at halftime; we didn't need to change anything. Everything was dialing up, our offensive line was doing a fantastic job of block and the backs were running good."
Williams, a big, powerful runner, picked up 92 yards on 12 rushes, and his career-long 37-yarder in the fourth quarter set up a 34-yard touchdown burst by Shelton, a speed-merchant who's been getting his carries on sweeps from the flanker position.
Cook also hooked up with senior wideout Bennie Fowler, who turned a basic crossing pattern designed to pick up a first down on third-and-four, into a 34-yard touchdown for a 14-7 second-quarter lead.
A once-sputtering offense that relied on the defense to score touchdowns earlier in the season has been self-reliant in two straight games.
"You could feel it (developing)," Cook said. "Heading into Iowa, we were jelling a lot better in practice. Guys were in sync and I was more in tune with the receivers. Then, I think we did see an improvement this week in practice, just with the whole confidence level - guys having fun out there, not stressing about anything.
"Jeremy had quite a day today. Seeing him succeed out there, with the whole balance of passing and running, is a great, reassuring feeling, especially for the quarterback, when you can run the ball like we did. They didn't know if we were going to pass it, or run it."
The victory ended a four-game Big Ten losing streak at home, and was the Spartans' first over a conference opponent since they turned the Hoosiers away 55-3 on Nov. 19, 2011. They'll start the second half the season with a 5-1 overall record, 2-0 league mark next Saturday against Purdue.
"My thoughts are that our offensive line is jelling," Dantonio said. "We've got good players there, we have some depth there and we're also staying healthy. And, we've got some different types of runners.
"We've got a banger, with Delton Williams. He stepped in there for some tough yards and broke a couple. Then you have Jeremy Langford, who's a little bit more of a slasher. And Nick Hill is a very quick, north-south runner when he has an opportunity. And they're getting more experience. Remember, Le'Veon Bell had 390 carries last year and these guys weren't playing much.
"They've got to gain confidence as they go, and this is a big confidence-booster for them."
Langford sounded gleefully credible when he said it won't matter who gets the yards as long as the results on the scoreboard stay the same.
"I feel like I've been doing a good job of blocking to help Connor make those types of plays down the field, and I've been running the ball hard and getting the 4 yards that we need," Langford said. "I just want to win, and whoever can do what it takes to help win, I'm OK with that."
This day, however, will always belong to Langford, and he did with White, MSU's rusher of all time, bearing witness.