Wide receivers getting in on the ground game

Michigan State's wideouts contributing to rushing attack in past two weeks as an added wrinkle to the Spartans' evolving, explosive offense

It had been a while since Keith Mumphery ran for a touchdown. He grew up playing running back in Georgia and got some looks as a wildcat quarterback in high school, but Saturday marked his first collegiate rushing touchdown.

He had previous chances, getting six carries in 2012 and two in 2013, but in 2014, there has been a greater emphasis placed on misdirection and the use of wide receivers in the rushing attack.

“It felt good to get a rushing touchdown,” Mumphery said. “It is something we worked on all week, so to see it put into action, it feels good and also helps build confidence for next week.”

It is an element of the Michigan State offense that has been featured increasingly in the past two weeks. Against Eastern Michigan two weeks ago, the Spartan’ wide receivers ran six times for 67 yards and a touchdown. They followed it up with seven attempts for 63 yards and a touchdown against Wyoming, which offensive coordinator Dave Warner said was part of the game plan.

”We felt like we were going to have to open up the playbook,” he said. “That's been a part of our playbook and there are different ways we get to that play. …

”I felt like we would have to utilize those plays today and we didn't waste any time doing so.”

The wide receivers being involved in the run game is a facet of the Spartans offense that always has been there, Mumphery said, but it is being used more this season so far.

Coach Mark Dantonio said that 75 percent of the Michigan State offense is what is always has been, but with experience and talent, more can be done.

“Our guys are all in sync and know the system,” Dantonio said. “We have five guys at wide receiver that are very productive. Last year, we didn't have a lot of identity offensively.

”I think all of these things were solved and we have developed a lot of confidence over the course of last season that has transitioned into this year.”

The result is a more diverse offense that can move the ball in a greater variety of ways with a greater variety of plays. The Spartans got the ball to Mumphery, R.J. Shelton, Aaron Burbridge and MacGarrett Kings through jet sweeps, handoffs, pitches and even lining up in the backfield after coming in motion.

It is just adding more wrinkles, sophomore offensive tackle Jack Conklin said.

”We have been successful running the ball up the middle, so now we are starting to do different things to keep the defense thinking,” Conklin said. “We will bring the guy in motion, sometimes we will hand it off, sometimes we won’t.

”Just different wrinkles to keep the defense thinking and open up those holes even bigger.”

Senior Jeremy Langford and the rest of the Spartans running backs have been the beneficiaries early this season as opposing defenses are having more to watch on film and in games.

Langford said it helps to have receivers running the ball, but also to figure in on play action and reverses, keeping defenses honest.

“It helps a lot,” he said. “They can’t really load the box and just key on me and inside runs. They have to respect our receivers in the running game.”

It seems to be working, as the Spartans ran for 336 and 338 yards in the past two weeks, respectively, and blew out back-to-back teams.

And with Langford posting his first 100-yard game on the ground and things clicking from top to bottom, Michigan State hopes the wide receivers being a factor on the ground helps continue its groove.

“It’s great because Jeremy is getting in a rhythm now,” senior Tony Lippett said. “He is back healthy and he is feeling good. All of our running backs are running the ball. Our quarterbacks are running the ball.

”We are just trying to do more things for other teams to game plan for and getting more confidence in the process, too.”


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