Rutgers-Michigan St. Preview

BY foxsports • November 18, 2014

(AP) - Michigan State coach Mark Dantonio expressed confidence his team would bounce back after a disheartening loss to Ohio State.

Thanks to another dominant performance by running back Jeremy Langford, the Spartans did just that last weekend to remain in contention for the Big Ten East Division title.

Langford and No. 10 Michigan State meet Rutgers for the first time in over 10 years Saturday, and the Scarlet Knights enter East Lansing after true freshmen running backs Josh Hicks and Robert Martin helped them snap a three-game skid.

The Spartans (8-2, 5-1) return home for the first time since a 49-37 loss to the Buckeyes on Nov. 8. They won 37-15 at Maryland last Saturday to stay one game behind Ohio State in the division.

"Anytime you have a difficult outing, to come back and play extremely well reaffirms your credibility as a football player and as a football unit," Dantonio said. "That's what we wanted to do, and I think we were able to do that. We sort of returned to who we are."

Langford, who played multiple positions early in his career and bounced around in erratic fashion, has become the most consistent running back in the Big Ten.

Langford had 138 rushing yards against Maryland, marking the 14th consecutive 100-plus yard rushing performance against a conference opponent. The streak began with a 109-yard game during a homecoming win over Indiana on Oct. 12, 2013, and included a 128-yard performance in the Big Ten championship game against Ohio State.

Langford played defensive back and on special teams during his redshirt freshman season and switched to running back as a sophomore following a brief stint at wide receiver during spring practice in 2012.

"He sat in my office and we had long discussions about what position he was going to play," Dantonio said. "When he moved to defensive back he didn't really want to move. I sort of forced the issue. Then he bounced back. He always wanted to play running back and I would always force the issue, saying, `You're too good of an athlete to be standing on the sidelines.'"

Langford stood out on special teams as a sophomore, particularly on kickoff coverage. Still, he was viewed as a long shot to win the starting running back job as a junior in 2013, listed third on the depth chart entering fall camp. Langford ultimately seized the role and rushed for 1,422 yards and 18 touchdowns, aiding the Spartans en route to their first Rose Bowl victory since 1988.

"To see him flourish like he did last year, that was a little life lesson for a lot of our players and really a lot of our coaches and probably myself as well," Dantonio said. "Don't give up on players, see it through. Players, don't give up on your dreams. Players, experience other positions, it will help you grow. There were a lot of lessons learned there."

For Rutgers (6-4, 2-4), Hicks and Martin had told their teammates it was coming.

In a 45-23 win against Indiana last weekend the two saw the most extensive and meaningful game action of their careers, combining for 197 yards and four touchdowns on 31 carries.

"We hear them talk about it all the time - like `as soon as I get my chance you're all going to see,'" right tackle Taj Alexander said. "And it sounds good (when you say it) but we'll see what happens when you get in the game."

The players will next face a Michigan State team that's ranked No. 8 in the country against the run, yielding 103.7 yards per game. Last Saturday, the Spartans gave up six rushing yards.

Now that the two have done what they've been saying they'd do since August, they're tasked with repeating their breakout performances. Despite having to do so against one of the top rushing defenses in the country, the freshmen don't appear concerned.

"I'm looking forward to it, because like I said before, I want to compete against the best of the best," Martin said. "So why not Michigan State who's ranked (No. 8 against the run) in the country and perform and help my team get the W."

The Scarlet Knights lead the all-time series 3-2, winning 19-14 at home in the last matchup Sept. 4, 2004.