MSU Football: Successful running game is key for Spartans vs. Notre Dame

EAST LANSING — For Michigan State, running the ball has always been a priority, no matter the opponent. However, in recent years vs. Notre Dame, it’s been the running game, or lack thereof, that has played a major role in the outcome.

Over the past three season, Michigan State is 1-2 vs. Notre Dame. In MSU’s victory in 2010, they rushed for 203 yards as a team. In their losses in 2011 and 2012, the Spartans rushed for 29 yards and 50 yards.

Due to the correlation between running the ball and winning for MSU the past couple of years, the Spartans (3-0) realize how important establishing a run game will be in Saturday’s matchup vs. the 22-ranked Fighting Irish (2-1).

“We know we got to rush the ball against them,” junior tailback Jeremy Langford said. “That’s what we’re going to do.”

Michigan State head coach Mark Dantonio has expressed the importance of running the ball against Notre Dame all week, even going deep into the statistics book to show his team that they must run the ball successfully to have a chance at a victory.

“He (Dantonio) pulled out some stats that when they allow certain rushers to get over x amount of yards that this is their record,” junior running back Nick Hill said. “I want to say it was over 100 yards. We are looking to get over 100 yards. If not individually then as a unit.”

Junior running back Nick Hill is lifted by tight end Andrew Gleichert after scoring a 32-yard touchdown is MSU's spring game. (AP PHOTO)

Junior running back Nick Hill is lifted by tight end Andrew Gleichert after scoring a 32-yard touchdown is MSU’s spring game. (AP PHOTO)

In Notre Dame’s two victories this season, the defense has allowed an average of 86 yards per game (134 yards vs. Temple), and in the loss to Michigan the defense conceded 166 yards.

The Spartans are entering Saturday’s meeting with a different look in the backfield compared to last year. Le’Veon Bell received 76 percent of the carries in the 20-3 loss at Spartan Stadium in 2012, but heading into Saturday’s game, Tuesday’s depth chart had Langford or redshirt freshman Riley Bullough or Hill listed as the starter.

“I think we all bring something different,” Hill said. “I think that we all have a different game. You can see it out there.”

All three running backs have more than 20 carries on the season — Langford leads the team with 44, and while this three-headed backfield may not have a workhorse like Bell, they have a rotation that can continuously put fresh legs on the field without missing a step.

“It brings a huge dynamic,” Hill said. “Last year it was just Le’Veon Bell, and once someone else came in not having a whole bunch of reps throughout the season the guy was kind of rusty.  Now, that we have guys that have played, so if one guy goes in and one guy goes out we can keep that routine within the offense.”

The Spartans are not only facing their biggest test in terms of competition through this point in the season, but they are facing their biggest team in terms of size as well. And anyone that knows football knows that the battle in trenches will dictate how far the running game will actually go.

“Offensive line has to execute,” senior guard Blake Treadwell said. “We must execute our plays and have great technique.”

With the MSU passing attack ranking 105th in the nation in passing yards per game (160), and a new quarterback at the helm, it will be pivotal that the 44th-ranked rushing attack in the nation (209.7 yards per game) gets going early to take some pressure off.

Kick off for Saturday’s game is approximately at 3:30 p.m. at Notre Dame Stadium.