Grinz on Green Blog: LJ Scott Looking for 1,000 Yards, Freshman Mike Panasiuk Showing Improvement
By Steve Grinczel, MSUSpartans.com Online Columnist
EAST LANSING, Mich. – Largely overlooked during Michigan State’s perplexing season is an upcoming milestone worthy of celebration if LJ Scott can run for at least 65 yards in Saturday’s season finale at Penn State.
The first Spartan to rush for back-to-back 100-yard games since Jeremy Langford strung 10 in a row together during the 2014 season is closing in on his first 1,000-yard showing.
Only a sophomore, Scott’s numbers in the second half of the season lend credence to MSU’s belief that the health of the team isn’t necessarily reflected in its win-loss record since a robust ground game has typically been a leading indicator of success under 10th-year head coach Mark Dantonio.
In the last five games, Scott: gashed Ohio State’s vaunted defense for 160 yards on just 19 carries, had 122 in the win over Rutgers, 50 versus Illinois, 139 against Michigan and 128 at Maryland.
Scott’s surge to 935 yards on 168 attempts is even more impressive considering how the offensive line has been reconfigured several times throughout the season, and that he has shared tailback carries with Gerald Holmes (85 for 408) and Madre London (28 for 120).
“There’s always been a new guy in there (on the line) really, and you just never know what that guy’s capable of doing,” said Scott, who led MSU with 699 yards on 146 carries as a true freshman last season. “You hope and pray that we pick up whatever we need to pick up but from a running back’s standpoint we’ve got to always stay focused and have the same mindset going into every game – that’s obviously chasing heels, having vision and making the right cut.”
With Scott leading the way, the Spartans’ ground attack has shown marked improvement since they were outrushed 209-51 by Northwestern in the sixth game.
“LJ is a good tailback,” said Dantonio. “He’s had some other good games and I think he has been the lead horse at other times. There have been times when every one of those tailbacks has become that guy, that lead horse. We ride the hot back and after he hit a couple (against the Buckeyes) he became the hot back.”
Scott added that studying film of the various linemen has given him a better understanding of their tendencies.
“We wish it would have came together better at the beginning of the year than toward the end, but we were young, it takes time and we’ve still got another game left to send the seniors out with a victory and make a name for the 2017 season,” Scott said. “There will be a lot of young guys playing this week so knowing what some of those young can do will tell us a lot going into the 2017 season.”
If Scott can maintain his 5.6-yards-per-carry average, it would be MSU’s best output since Edwin Baker averaged 5.8 in 2010. And, a 123-yard performance against the Nittany Lions would move him into fifth place for the most single-season rushing yards by a Spartan sophomore.
Only five sophomores have rushed for 1,000 yards in school history: Lorenzo White (2,066 on 419 carries in 1985), Tico Duckett (1,394 on 257 in ’90), Sedrick Irvin (1,270 on 246 in ’96), Baker (1,201 on 207 in ’10) and Marc Renaud (1,057 on 216 in ’95).
With 76 yards on two receptions -- including a career-long 64-yarder for a touchdown -- against the Buckeyes, Scott also set a personal record with 236 all-purpose yards while seemingly running with more patience behind his blockers and an extra burst.
“It’s just going in with a mindset of having all the confidence in the world that you can do it, and knowing who you’re playing against is probably the biggest thing,” he said. “It was a physical game but I just tried to bring a little something extra last week and I’m going to do the same this week.
“We were just playing better all-around as a team and I always give all the credit to the linemen up front. They’ve made mistakes like everybody does but obviously they’ve come back and made up for it.”
Producing a 1,000-yard rusher would be a badge of redemption for MSU’s beleaguered line.
“There’s more consistency,” said offensive line coach Mark Staten. “If you look at their technique, you can see it has really gotten a lot better. They’ve been able to adjust to different things that different teams have been throwing at them, things that aren’t so new to them anymore like they were before.
“Really, I think that it’s just belief, the right plays at the right time and establishing the running game is always what we want to do. When you hit rock bottom, you go back to your basics and the basics have always been to run the ball.”
GoG Notes & Quotes: The light has been going on for MSU’s young players all over the field, but none is brighter than that of true freshman defensive tackle Mike Panasiuk who in his second career start registered a personal-best seven tackles against Ohio State.
Panasiuk came to the Spartans with a reputation of being one of the strongest first-year players in the nation, and defensive line coach Ron Burton said he is learning how to take advantage of that quality.
“Playing strength against strength,” Burton said. “We all have our strengths, and yes, (he has the) ability to make plays off of blocks and double-teams that we ask in our three-technique. He showed that he can match some of the things he’s going to see up front with the double-teams and come off a block and make plays.
“So, it was great to see and he has a great future here as he continues to evolve as a run-stopper and improve as a pass-rusher.”
Panasiuk also got in on his first career sack with an assist behind the line against the Buckeyes.
“I’m just getting more experience now than I did in the past,” Panasiuk said. “I wasn’t getting all the reps that I wanted to, but during practice I was able to keep getting better and better and better and work my way into starting.
“Those experienced reps are what’s making the difference. Getting used to the speed and the power of the game was probably the biggest factor for me. Now I feel like I’m toe-to-toe with the big guys.”