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2016 MSU Football Position Preview: Running Backs

The three-headed running back monster rides again. YEE HAW!

NCAA Football: Penn State at Michigan State
LJ Scott is a bad man
Mike Carter-USA TODAY Sports

Bring me your hottest takes on Twitter at @acsmith06. You will be judged accordingly.

Running back has been a plus position group for the Michigan State offense since Mark Dantonio came to town. With a trio of backs accounting for at least 500 yards and three touchdowns apiece on the ground, 2015 was no different

In 2016, MSU is looking to maintain the results while tweaking the formula. Co-offensive coordinator Dave Warner has been vocal about wanting a workhorse to emerge and get the majority of the carries while another back (or two) spells him from time to time.

If that sounds familiar, that’s because it is. Jehuu Caulcrick had Javon Ringer. Edwin Baker had Le’Veon Bell. Jeremy Langford had Nick Hill. It’s a proven formula but in order to make it work one back needs emerge as “the guy”.

Can one of the talented Spartan trio take control? Let’s examine.


NCAA Football: Michigan State at Ohio State
Pendleton was an under the radar conrtibutor
Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports

FB Trevon Pendleton — Graduation

Yes, all three of MSU’s top rushers are back but I want to give graduated do-it-all swoleback Trevon Pendleton a moment in the sun.

The walk-on turned three-year starter was an underrated part of the prolific offensive success of the last three seasons. His highlight reel includes receiving touchdowns in the 2013 Rose Bowl and The Horseshoe, plus a critical 74-yard reception against Michigan last season when hope looked all but lost.

I mean really, does it get any better than a 5’11” 247-pound fullback making huge plays on the biggest of stages? I humbly submit that it does not.

Former running back Delton Williams and graduate transfer Prescott Line will compete to take his place on the field but....I said I wasn’t gonna cry....they won’t be able to take his place in my heart.

Spartan Nation will miss you big fella.


NCAA Football: Purdue at Michigan State
Madre London brings a lot of speed to the table
Mike Carter-USA TODAY Sports

RB - Gerald Holmes (R-Jr), Madre London (R-So), LJ Scott (So) FB - Delton Williams (R-Sr), Prescott Line (Graduate Transfer from SMU)

Alright enough of the mushy stuff. Let’s take a moment to celebrate the returning players in GIF form, shall we? Take it away Shia.

Accurately triumphant, but the celebration is a little conservative...

Appropriately impossible dexterity. Almost there....

Yep, that’s the one.

This depth chart should have Spartan fans windmilling all over town like lunatics. MSU is, as they say, loaded at running back with three players — LJ Scott, Madre London and Gerald Holmes — capable of starting at a lot of schools right now.

Last seasons challenge was replacing Langford and Hill. With no experience to speak of on the roster, they chose to play the “hot hand” and wait for someone to break through. That system gave the backs plenty of experience and opportunity, but injuries to pretty much everyone prevented any sort of week-to-week rhythm. There were in-game exceptions, however. For example, the 22-play drive against Iowa. That was pretty cool.

It was a bit messy but all three backs return this season with plenty of experience and starting-caliber traits.

Holmes (110 carries, 540 yds, 8 TD’s in ‘15), a junior, is the elder statesmen of the group. The best analogy for his running style is a light version of Ricky Williams in early 2000’s Madden video games. He seems to always falls forward. ALWAYS (he says while remembering throwing Gamecube controllers at his wall). Holmes isn’t going to blow by you but get in his way at your own risk because at 6’0”, 222-pounds this young man runs with violence and does not quit.

London (119 carries, 500 yds, 3 TD’s in ‘15) was the stater a year ago until an ankle injury cost him three games in the middle of the season. When healthy, he brings a dimension of speed that neither Holmes nor Scott possess. His inexperience showed up in his indecisiveness last year, causing him to dance instead of hitting the hole. If he improves there, his natural speed and ability to make one cut and take off will make him tough to keep on the sidelines.

Finally, there’s Scott, the crown jewel of the 2015 class. He was a top-60 recruit who could have gone anywhere he wanted, holding offers from Alabama, Tennessee and his hometown Ohio State Buckeyes to name a few. He was as physically ready to play as a true freshman could be and ended up leading the team in carries (146), yards (699), rushing touchdowns (11) and signature Big Ten Championship Game moments.

Neither of the other backs can match Scott’s combination of size, speed and wiggle. He has the potential to be the best back to come through East Lansing in a very long time. Considering the names mentioned earlier, that’s some lofty praise.

As good as Scott can be, this isn’t a one-horse race by any means. Holmes and London both more than held their own when given carries last season and will not back away from the top spot quietly.

This is what doctors would call “a good problem”.


NCAA Football: Big Ten Championship-Iowa vs Michigan State
And you thought I’d use a different picture
Aaron Doster-USA TODAY Sports

With all of the turnover facing the Spartan offense, Warner and fellow co-offensive coordinator/human walrus Jim Bollman will look to their most proven group to be a consistent driving force. Their first mission is finding a true lead back.

At the start of camp, all three were listed as co-starters but this should be Scott’s job to lose. He’s the most complete back and built to run up the middle, where the strength of the MSU offensive line figures to lie.

If my sacrifices to the #AMSUHG prove unworthy and injuries take a similar toll as a year ago, London and Holmes provide the type of depth a lot of schools would kill for.

Regardless of who ends up as the lead #dawg, the running back situation is in very good hands.

That’s it for offense, check back laster this week for the defensive position previews.