Michigan State has a foundation built on toughness and running the football. So coming off a loss to Oregon in which the Spartans ran for just 37 yards on 15 carries in the second half, they were champing at the bit to get back on the field and assert their identity.
“We had a bye week and we had been waiting and waiting and wanting to get back out there,” running back Delton Williams said. “Coach (Mark Dantonio) said we were stuck in neutral over that bye week and we had to get back in drive and go downhill and do great things.”
The Spartans put in drive quickly Saturday in their 73-14 win against Eastern Michigan.
How quickly? It was beyond going 0 to 60, Williams said.
“It was 0-100 real quick,” he said.
Michigan State ran for 336 yards and seven touchdowns on 60 attempts for an average of 5.6 yards per carry against the Eagles. Williams contributed three touchdowns, including an 80-yard run in the fourth, as Michigan State had its most rushing scores since it had 10 in 1989 against Northwestern.
All in all, the Spartans accomplished the goal they had coming into the game, offensive coordinator Dave Warner said.
“Offensive linemen always want to hang their hat on being able to run the football,” he said. “With what happened in the second half of the Oregon game, not being able to run the ball as well as we needed to, those guys wanted to bear down and re-emphasize the need to run the football.”
Senior running back Nick Hill said there was no more emphasis placed on running the ball than usual for the Spartans, but there was an added desire to do so.
”We didn’t run the ball well against Oregon and you could tell the offensive line took that to heart that we hadn’t been running the ball well,” he said. “For them to come out and dominate the way they did made a statement.”
It was a necessary performance, said Hill, who had a 4-yard touchdown run among his 58 yards on 14 attempts.
“I think it’s very important for our team to have the game we did today when it comes to rushing,” he said. “We didn’t do very well in previous games, especially at Oregon in the second half.”
The Spartans’ rushing attack benefited from the speed of wide receivers as well, as R.J. Shelton, Keith Mumphery and MacGarrett Kings accounted for 67 yards rushing. The quarterback trio of Connor Cook, Tyler O’Connor and Damion Terry also chipped in 31 yards. There is no question, though, the Spartans identity comes back to physical running, led by Jeremy Langford, who had 60 yards on nine attempts with a 21-yard touchdown.
”We still want to mix it up a little bit; we want to run a little bit of power football,” Warner said. “It was good to be able to do that, it was good for our offensive line for us to be able to run the ball and enjoy a game like this.”