This is the first in a series of previews of Michigan State football.
Dating back to 2007, the Mark Dantonio era has featured many successful running backs in East Lansing. From Javon Ringer to Le’veon Bell to Jeremy Langford, these men have demonstrated the motto “Pound green pound” as well as any running back could. Dantonio has produced a 1,000 yard rusher six out of his nine years during his tenure at Michigan State. It’s safe to say that the ground game is a huge integral part of the Spartans success on offense.
The departure of Langford after the 2014 regular season raised the frightening question: who was going to stand behind Connor Cook next season? For the first time in a long time, critics and fans alike had their doubts about the future outlook of the MSU rushing attack, and who could blame them? Before the start of the 2015 campaign, freshmen Madre London and LJ Scott had yet to touch the pigskin, while returning sophomore Gerald Holmes was behind the scenes the year prior.
However, the three-headed monster (London, Scott, Holmes) showed the College Football World what they were all about last year. They emerged into the spotlight and exceeded everyone’s expectations by posting splendid numbers. 1,739 rushing yards and 22 touchdowns as a collective unit to be exact. Each player reached their high point at different times over the course of the season. London was going strong right out of the gate, while Scott was commanding the ground game during the late stages of the year.
Each player brings their own skillset to the table that separates himself from the rest. What we’re getting out of this trio is a healthy balance of speed, agility, and power. I will now give each member of the three-headed monster crew my thoughts on why he has solidified himself as the starting running back for the upcoming season.
1. (RS) Sophomore Madre London
It only took two weeks for London to burst onto the scene as he raced past the century mark facing the No. 7 Oregon Ducks. He started the game with an electrifying 62-yard burst on his first carry. He later battled an injury that restricted his playing time leading up to the Big Ten Championship game.
London might be injury prone, but the Fort Lauderdale native is without a doubt the quickest and most explosive running back out of the three. His ball security and awareness are off the charts as has surrendered no fumbles thus far. His versatility will give him the opportunity to contribute towards a maturing aerial attack with his speed and exceptional hands. London has the ability to lead the charge not only because of what damage he can do on the ground, but also because he’s capable of presenting frequent matchup nightmares with a linebacker that will favor him almost every time.
2. (RS) Junior Gerald Holmes
It took the hometown favorite a little longer than London to find his comfort zone. But once he found his rhythm, there was no looking back. Holmes caught fire in the second half of the season, including a superb four game span. In relief of London, Holmes racked up 329 combined yards along with four scores against Nebraska (117 yards), Maryland (83), Ohio State (65), and Penn State (64).
This man is just a bruiser as he punishes whimpy tacklers. Watching him stiff arming and bouncing off of defenders is like watching a pinball go to work. Aside from his incredible vision and patience, he does a great job of running through defenders and his ability to turn apparent losses into actual gains. Spartan nation wants the starter to be tough as nails and use his strength to his advantage by always falling forward. Holmes is the perfect guy to fit that mold.
3. Sophomore LJ Scott
The outstanding true freshman had 11 scores and was just shy of the 700-yard mark. Unlike London and Holmes, the Ohioan was consistently healthy and played in every game.
Scott had quite the highlight reel. His first two touchdowns came against Oregon, including a career high thrilling 38-yard touchdown run. He began conference play in style by gashing Purdue’s defense for 146 rushing yards, another career high. Of course, he engineered one of the biggest touchdown drives in school history in the Big Ten Championship showdown versus Iowa. After the Hawkeyes punted with 9:31 remaining in the game, holding onto a slim 13-9 lead, Scott carved his name into MSU lore forever. He was a major part of the Spartans’ final drive , which consisted of 82 yards on 22 plays and the game winning touchdown. Sparty’s prayer was answered as the true freshman guided them to the College Football Playoffs.
There’s no better word to describe LJ Scott than workhorse. He gets stronger and plays better as the game progresses as the B1G title game perfectly reflected that concept. His vision was excellent, along with his excellent footwork and steady balance. He did a great job of eluding tacklers and utilizing his unique combination of speed and power to get the job done. Scott has the ability to start start because he is one of the most complete players, not just on the team, but also in the nation. Many Spartans see Le’veon Bell like qualities that the head of the three-headed monster possesses. And you very well know that a true freshman who is drawing comparisons with arguably the best running back in the NFL has a bright future ahead of him.