Michigan State football’s complicated relationship with running the ball
Run the da*n ball.
Michigan State football has a history of success with running the ball. But not a lot of that success is recent.
Michigan State football has always loved running the da*n ball. Lorenzo White, Javon Ringer, TJ Duckett, Le’veon Bell, Jeremey Langford, and Kenneth Walker III have all cemented themselves as some of the greatest backs that have worn the green and white. It’s also safe to say Michigan State is at its best when it can run the ball on its own terms.
The issue is, however, the Spartans are usually at their worst when they can’t.
Since 2000, MSU has only had nine 1,000-yard rushers, and K9 is the only rusher to break the 1,000-yard mark since the Spartans made the playoff. By comparison to some notable programs in the sport, it’s not great.
filed under: yeesh
1000yd Rushers since 2015:
UGA: 7 (4 in 2017-18)
BAMA: 6 (Henry 2000+ yd in ‘15)
Ohio St: 6 (Dobbins 2000+ in ‘19)
UofM: 3 (2 since 2021)
— maxwell (@maxwellklitzke) May 17, 2023
Now, you may call it unfair to compare MSU to these schools, I do not. Wanting to compete with the big programs and actually attempting to compete are two different things. If this program wants to accomplish what they and the fanbase want, then a 1,000-yard rusher is the bare minimum.
When Michigan State has a 1,000-yard rusher, you can expect nine wins, a bowl game, and most likely the Paul Bunyan Trophy. When they don’t? It’s a coin flip that Michigan State even makes a bowl game and Paul likely spends his time in Ann Arbor.
There has been an evolution to the running back position, where touches are being spread across 2-3 backs as opposed to running the tread off of a single back. This would in theory contribute to a lowered possibility of an individual milestone of hitting 1,000 yards, but for one to hit that mark, they only would need to average 83 yards a game. Nevertheless, team rushing performance is an important thing to review.
In Mel Tucker’s year zero, Michigan State football had two rushing touchdowns. Two. Neither came from the running back position. If that stat is not emblematic of how anemic and sputtering the MSU rushing attack was amidst a global pandemic I don’t know which one would be. In terms of EPA/play, (given field position, down & distance, are you doing better or worse than expected on a given play), Michigan State ranked 126th in rush EPA/play at -0.34. This means that every time MSU ran the ball, they were losing .34 points off their expected total. Less than ideal.
Despite how magical K9’s 2021 campaign was, Michigan State’s overall rushing EPA/play was only 0.04, good for 65th in the nation. For reference, MSU’s rushing performance against Michigan produced an epa/play of 0.51 and Walker III’s 58-yard touchdown run to tie the game at 30 had an EPA of 7.24.
With K9 in Seattle, Michigan State regressed back to 2020 form, despite bringing in two promising transfers in Jalen Berger and Jarek Broussard. MSU fell back to 129th in EPA/play when rushing at -0.20. The Spartans also ranked 111th in rushing attempts per game, meaning they didn’t run a lot, and when they did, it was bad, bad, bad.
It’s beyond cliche for coaches to say that it’s imperative to establish the run, and we’ve rolled our eyes when Tucker and Jay Johnson have said as much on the podium. But they’re right. Michigan State quite literally lives and dies with running the ball.
Going into 2023, I am personally optimistic about the ability of the offensive line to take a step forward with regard to run blocking, and I think the addition of Jaren Mangham will help move the sticks in short-yardage situations. A full cycle for Jalen Berger in East Lansing will hopefully yield positives as well.
Michigan State has the opportunity to re-establish itself as a high-tier Big Ten team in 2023, but it starts with running the da*n ball.
Mark Dantonio, 3 other Spartans on CFB Hall of Fame ballot
This one should be a no-brainer.
Former Michigan State football coach Mark Dantonio, along with three other Spartans, are on the College Football Hall of Fame ballot.
It’s that time of the year when the College Football Hall of Fame releases its ballot and Mark Dantonio, along with three other Spartans, have made the cut for the 2024 class.
Former MSU coach Mark Dantonio debuts on the National Football Foundation’s College Football Hall of Fame ballot. OT Flozell Adams and and coach Darryl Rogers also on it again, as is former player Gideon Smith in the divisional coaching category.
— Chris Solari (@chrissolari) June 5, 2023
Dantonio is one of nine coaches on the ballot at the FBS level and Flozell Adams is one of five offensive linemen — he’s joined by former Michigan lineman Steve Hutchinson and the famous Michael Oher from Ole Miss. Four of the five offensive linemen on the ballot are from Big Ten schools. Darryl Rogers joins Dantonio as one of nine coaches and Gideon Smith is one of 32 coaches from the divisional ranks but he was a trailblazing player for the Spartans in 1915.
Many have been clamoring for Adams to make the Hall of Fame for years while Dantonio feels like a surefire selection and he compares favorably to the other coaches on the ballot.
Let’s take a look at his resume compared to the other FBS coaches on the ballot:
- Dantonio: 132-74 career record, 7-6 bowl record, 3 Big Ten titles
- Larry Blakeney: 178-113-1 career record, 2-3 bowl record, 8 conference titles
- Jim Carlen: 107-69-3 career record, 2-5-1 bowl record, 1 SoCon title
- Pete Cawthon Sr.: 98-50-10 career record, 0-2 bowl record, 2 conference titles
- Larry Coker: 86-47 career record, 4-2 bowl record, 1 national title, 3 Big East titles
- Ralph Friedgen: 75-50 career record, 5-2 bowl record, 1 ACC title
- Darryl Rogers: 129-84-7 career record, 1-2 bowl record, 2 conference titles
- Frank Solich: 173-101 career record, 7-9 bowl record, 1 Big 12 title
- Tommy Tuberville: 159-99 career record, 7-6 bowl record, 2 conference titles
Compared to the others, Dantonio has the fourth-most all-time wins, he’s one of four with a winning bowl record, and he is tied for second-most conference titles.
Dantonio is credited for turning around the Michigan State football program after years of irrelevance. Following the departure of Nick Saban before the 2000 Citrus Bowl, Michigan State was a non-factor in the Big Ten. All Dantonio did was lead Michigan State back to the top of the conference and to its first playoff ever. He also won two BCS/New Year’s Six bowls.
This should be a no-brainer.
Mark Dantonio lists top favorite 25 plays during his MSU tenure (Video)
This is an awesome list.
Former Michigan State football coach Mark Dantonio carefully chose his top 25 favorite plays during his tenure.
Former Michigan State Football coach Mark Dantonio is arguably the greatest coach in program history. Dantonio is highly regarded by all Michigan State fans even with the poor state the program was in when he retired. He gave us some of our programs greatest moments in history. Rose Bowl, Cotton Bowl, College Football Playoff and countless massive regular season wins are just a few of the great moments he brought us.
Recently Dantonio sat down with Michigan State and the Big Ten Network. During this meeting, Dantonio gave his Top 25 plays during his Michigan State tenure. This list was made solely by Mark Dantonio. He not only looked at the play itself, but also the impact it had on our program.
Lets dive into them 25-1:
25. Brian Lewerke TD to Madre London at Michigan (2017)
In a game that Michigan State was not expected to win, this was a perfectly run screen pass that scored easily with two linemen leading the way.
24. Connor Cook game-winning TD pass in Cotton Bowl (2015)
This game is one of the greatest in Michigan State history. Michigan State defeated Baylor in the Cotton Bowl after being down by 20 points in the fourth quarter. This pass was the game-winning touchdown in this classic.
23. Brian Hoyer third TD pass to Devin Thomas vs. Penn State (2007)
The play itself seemed pretty normal on its own. But three touchdowns to the same receiver in a win against Penn State definitely deserves to be on this list.
22. Three touchdown runs vs. Michigan
Nothing is sweeter than scoring against Michigan. In the No. 22 spot, Dantonio selected three key touchdown runs in wins against Michigan over the years. This includes touchdown runs from Edwin Baker, LeVeon Bell, and Jeremy Langford.
21. Three touchdowns vs. Wisconsin (2011)
This game is another all time classic in Michigan State history. This selection includes two touchdowns from Keshawn Martin and one from BJ Cunningham. These massive plays all helped setup the magical ending to this game. More to come later on this one.
20. Three interceptions for touchdowns
Dantonio selected three interceptions that were returned for touchdowns in the No. 20 spot. The first was by Darqueze Dennard in the 2012 Outback Bowl victory against Georgia. The other two were massive in big wins over Michigan. Dantonio prioritized the Michigan game ever year, so it is no surprise seeing plays against them all over this list.
19. Game-winning FG vs. Wisconsin (2008)
This game was not as big as others, but a game winning field goal is always exciting. In this one, Brett Swenson hit a 44-yard field goal as time expired to beat the Badgers.
18. Defensive stop to beat Iowa (2008)
I always think defensive plays deserve more love. In this selection, Adam Decker stops Iowa on fourth-and-1 to seal a Spartan victory over the Hawkeyes.
17. Fake punt at Iowa (2013)
Mike Sadler is one of the greatest punters in Michigan State history. In this play, he showed off his legs in a different way. To start the fourth quarter, he successfully ran for 20 yards to pick up a key first down in a very tight game.
16. Another TD run at Michigan (2008)
This play was one of the biggest in this rivalries history. A long run by Javon Ringer helped lead Michigan State to victory for the first time in Ann Arbor since 1990.
15. Blocked FG in 3OT Outback Bowl vs. Georgia (2012)
Another special teams play, this time a blocked field goal in triple-overtime to beat Georgia in the Outback Bowl. I believe winning this game was a turning point for our program, and this play sealed the win.
14. Acrobatic interception vs. Iowa (2015)
Everyone remembers how unbelievable this play was. In the 2015 Big Ten Championship Game, Demetrius Cox pulled off an interception I have never seen before. After a fellow teammate broke up the pass in the end zone, the ball ended up lying on his back. Cox saw the ball, scooped it off his teammates back and helped kill a promising Hawkeyes drive.
13. Negative-48 rushing yards vs. Michigan (2013)
This is another combination of multiple plays. In Michigan States 2013 domination over Michigan, the Spartans’ defense held Michigan to negative-48 rushing yards. Yes, you read that correctly. That is a number I doubt we ever see again.
12. Larry Caper TD run vs. Michigan (2009)
Larry Caper’s 24-yard overtime touchdown run is one of my personal favorite plays of all time. Nothing about the play itself was memorable, but the meaning behind it is everything. This was the first time Michigan State won consecutive games over the Wolverines since 1967. This game also helped springboard the Spartans into their dominant run over Michigan.
11. Brian Hoyer TD pass to Blair White at Michigan (2008)
Another memorable play against, you guessed it, Michigan. This was a 61-yard pass from Brian Hoyer to Blair White early in the first quarter to help the Spartans defeat their in-state rivals again.
10. Connor Cook TD pass to Tony Lippett in Rose Bowl (2014)
The greatest stage in all of college football saw the Spartans beat Stanford in the 100th Rose Bowl. This touchdown pass ending up being the game-winning score in one of the greatest games in program history.
9. Blocked FG in Cotton Bowl vs. Baylor (2015)
This is another play from Michigan State’s historic comeback win against Baylor in the Cotton Bowl. Marcus Rush blocked the Baylor field goal attempt to keep Michigan State only down by six. This setup the game-winning drive at the end of the fourth quarter.
8. Walk-off Hail Mary vs. Wisconsin (2011)
This is another iconic moment in Spartan Stadium history. As time expired, Kirk Cousins threw a Hail Mary touchdown pass to Keith Nichol to upset the Badgers.
7. Jeremy Langford TD run vs. Ohio State (2013)
In the 2013 Big Ten Championship game vs Ohio State, Jeremy Langford sealed the Spartans victory with this long touchdown run. This touchdown put the Spartans up by 10 with two minutes left in the game, ending Ohio States chances and clinching a trip to the Rose Bowl.
6. Walk-off FG at Ohio State (2015)
This play not being higher shocks me. On a night when star quarterback Connor Cook was out injured, Michigan State was still able to pull off the upset road win against Ohio State. Michael Geiger knocked in the winning field goal as time expired. Afterwards, he celebrated with his iconic windmill celebration that I’m sure you all are replicating right now.
5. Little Giants (2010)
I would argue this play is easily the best play call in Dantonio’s career. In overtime against Notre Dame, Michigan State lined up for the tying field goal to force a second overtime. Instead, they faked the field goal, threw the touchdown pass and the rest is history.
4. Trouble with the Snap (2015)
I, for one, am shocked this play isn’t No. 1. Do I even need to remind you what this play is? Jalen Watts-Jackson returned the muffed Michigan punt for a touchdown in 2015 as time expired to win the game. This play will be remembered forever.
3. Game-winning TD vs. Iowa (2015)
Who can forget the iconic final drive against Iowa in the 2015 Big Ten Championship Game. In a drive that was 22 plays long and took over nine minutes, LJ Scott capped it off with his short touchdown run. The mantra that season was “reach higher” and that’s exactly what he did on the run to avoid a Hawkeye tackler. College Football Playoff, here we come.
2. Fourth-down stop vs. Ohio State (2013)
This is the play when we knew we were Rose Bowl bound. Denicos Allen stopped Buckeye quarterback Braxton Miller on fourth down to seal the Spartans victory. I always think defensive plays deserve more credit and I’m glad Dantonio put this play so high on his list.
1. Rose Bowl-clinching stop (2014)
Did you guess this play was coming? Kyler Elsworth’s fourth-down stop against Stanford in the 2014 Rose Bowl is Mark Dantonio’s top play from his tenure. There is no bigger non-playoff stage in college football than the Rose Bowl, so it is no surprise to see the game-winning play at No. 1.
To see the full list on Twitter with a video highlight of each play, click the link below.
This will be fun.
We asked @DantonioMark for his favorite @MSU_Football plays. 💚
He ranked them, 25-1, and we're threading them here. ⚡
— Michigan State on BTN (@MichiganStOnBTN) May 31, 2023
Michigan State football: Washington game time, channel announced
Fans won’t be too thrilled about the channel.
The Washington vs. Michigan State football rematch is on Sept. 16, and the Spartans have revenge on their minds.
The game time for the Washington vs. Michigan State football game was just announced and is one I think most Michigan State fans will be happy with. The game will kick off at 5 p.m. ET on Sept. 16.
MSU-Washington will be a 5 p.m. kickoff at Spartan Stadum on Sept. 16 and air exclusively on NBC’s Peacock streaming platform.
— Chris Solari (@chrissolari) May 31, 2023
This is a great start time for Michigan State fans. That will give fans plenty of time to travel to East Lansing, enjoy a tailgate and get into the stadium. On top of that, the game will get down around 8 p.m. ET which is good for the crowd that does not like to be out late.
However, I think a lot of fans were hoping for a noon start time in this game. A noon start would have been a 9 a.m. local time for Washington, likely giving the Spartans a slight advantage. It’s no surprise seeing this big of a game scheduled in the evening to avoid that.
On top of the game time announcement, where the game will be aired on TV was also announced. This is where the good news ends. The Spartans game against Washington will only be available for streaming on Peacock. That means Spartan fans at home will have to pay to watch this game. However, a simple Google search showed me that Peacock currently only costs $20 for the entire year. A lot of Big Ten football and basketball games will only be available on Peacock this season, so that may not be a bad investment to make right now if you can.
What would a win mean for Michigan State football?
Michigan State will have revenge on its mind in this game. Washington beat the Spartans last season in Seattle 39-28. The game however did not feel that close. Michigan State made a late comeback to make the final score look respectable, but a lot of fans will tell you we never really stood a chance.
Washington will likely be a top 10 heading into this matchup, so Michigan State has a great opportunity in front of it. A win would would help spring the Spartans into the conference season with a lot of positive momentum.
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