Spartans turn to run game in weather-filled win over Maryland
Through heavy rain Saturday, MSU’s offense, led by a dominant rushing attack, charged down the field on the Spartans’ opening possession and found the end zone on an 11-play, 69-yard scoring drive that was capped off by a 2-yard rush by LJ Scott.
In previous games this season, the Spartans’ offense might have stalled out after showing promise offensively but not on Saturday.
After being held to a season-low 64 yards rushing against Ohio State last weekend, MSU’s rushing attack was relentless, constantly finding holes in the Terrapins’ defensive line to run through.
The Spartans finished with 271 yards on the ground, which is the second-highest rushing total this season, trailing just MSU’s 296-yard performance against Minnesota on the road.
“We came into the game knowing we need to run the football,” co-offensive coordinator Dave Warner said. “That was a big emphasis all week. We did a good job. Our guys up front did a great job blocking. I think LJ and the backs ran hard.”
In poor weather conditions, which included rain and snow, quarterback Brian Lewerke completed just 2 of 14 passes for eight yards.
“It’s not one I’m proud of for passing level, but we ran the ball very well,” Lewerke said. “We went into the game just focusing on running zone-type runs, and I think we did a good job of that.”
LJ Scott led the team with a game-high 147 yards rushing on a career-high 29 carries along with his first-quarter touchdown.
“LJ obviously had an excellent game for us,” Warner said. “In our emphasis for us this week in trying to do a better job running the football, part of that is us, part of it is the running backs and not being indecisive and putting a foot in the ground and going. So that was an emphasis. He did a good job of it all week in practice; that was obvious.”
With Scott running for over 100 yards Saturday, it marked the second time this season and the eighth time in his career the junior running back has eclipsed the 100-yard mark.
“I think, first of all, that it was critical to our success,” head coach Mark Dantonio said. “We weren’t throwing the ball very effectively, obviously. The weather had a lot to do with that. I looked up there when the snow was coming down; it’s just difficult to even see through the snow a little bit. Then as the game progressed, it became more like we didn’t have to take the risk to throw the football.”
In his last home game of his MSU career, Gerald Holmes rushed 11 times for 64 yards.
Although the Spartans dominated on the ground, there was one play Holmes would like to have back.
After the Spartans forced a takeaway and were given solid field position deep inside Maryland territory, Holmes fumbled near the goal line and the Terrapins recovered.
“When the fumble came, I kind of just went blank,” Holmes said. “I pride myself on not (committing turnovers), but the defender made a good play because I had the ball unsecured trying to split between two defenders.”
The fumble was his first of the season, but it was a constant reminder of the Spartans’ turnover issues that have plagued them for much of the season.
“He handled it OK,” Warner said of Holmes. “I mean, he’s not the first guy to fumble. He’s been our most consistent guy with the football over the years. That’s his first fumble this year, I believe, and he’s been very good throughout the year.”
Despite the abysmal weather conditions, Holmes said the mindset of running the football didn’t change, and the dominant rushing performance was a result of simply more opportunities.
“That’s kind of an added thing when the weather goes bad,” Holmes said. “That’s like almost a household standard for playing football; when the weather is bad, you’re going to bear down and run the ball more.”