Running back rotation breeds success

MSU employs three backs against Purdue for big statistical numbers -- some of the best since 2007.

It had been a while since Michigan State ran the ball as well as it did Saturday against Purdue.

Specifically, it had been since Mark Dantonio’s first year in 2007 that the Spartans had such success on the ground, posting 294 yards on 43 carries and a 6.8 yards per carry average.

Part of the success is a credit to a three-man running back rotation the Spartans worked in the 45-31 win.

“(Dantonio) brings in a fresh back instead of one back getting beat up,” senior Nick Hill said. “It helps you later in the season, too, when you go against Ohio State, Rutgers and Penn State later on in the season, your backs are fresh. When you have one back and he takes a pounding, it takes a toll on him.

”When rotating three backs, all backs stay fresh and all backs get carries. We all had big plays today and it works to our benefit.”

On Saturday, the trio totaled 220 yards as the rushing attack racked up 294 yards. It was the highest single-game Big Ten total since the Spartans had 368 against Indiana on Oct. 13, 2007, while 6.8 yards per carry was the highest total since they racked up 9.0 against Northwestern on Oct. 13, 2007.

In the big statistical game, Hill contributed 72 yards on nine attempts and two touchdowns, while senior Jeremy Langford had his tenth straight 100-yard game in Big Ten play with 104 yards on 13 carries. To boot, sophomore Delton Williams had 44 yards on just four carries as the running backs averaged 8.4 yards per carry.

“I felt like we needed to play Delton and felt like he needed to get some snaps,” Dantonio said. “He is a good football player and he had solid runs and he can rest Jeremy a little bit and then Nick Hill is very productive as well.

”Langford still got his touches and he runs the ball 13 times for 110 yards. Obviously, he is a great football player.”

In the case of Hill, he has 60 carries already this season – after having just 67 last season. Williams already has 28, compared to 38 last season. It is a benefit for the Spartans, as Langford remains the feature back, but there are better complementary pieces around him now giving him a spell more often.

So far this season, Langford has taken just 49.3 percent of the carries for Michigan State after handling 68.7 percent last season.

In part, the increased action for other backs and decreased looks for Langford can be attributed to early season blowouts in nonconference games.

But no matter the reason, senior offensive lineman Connor Kruse said having three running backs making plays is awesome for the offense.

“We have great running backs and they fix our mistakes, which is awesome,” Kruse said. “As an O-lineman, we try not to have any mistakes so the running back has plenty of holes to run through.

”Even if they do, they are so good at cutting back so fast, they can make space and break tackles and get a couple more yards.”

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