Langford, Spartans focused on finishing

LOS ANGELES -- Michigan State running back Jeremy Langford knows the look. So do the Spartans' offensive linemen.

They've seen the glaze wash over the faces of opposing defenders late in games throughout the Big Ten season. It's their cue to strike.

"I see it on the field, the offensive line sees it as well," Langford said Saturday. "When you see the defense gets tired, that's something we thrive on as an offense."

Langford has delivered more finishing blows that a Mortal Kombat fighter this season. Five of his 17 touchdown runs have come in the fourth quarter, including four in the final five Big Ten contests. To recap:

  • Nov. 2 vs. Michigan: Langford's 40-yard scoring run with 2:43 left capped a 29-6 demolition of the Spartans' archrival.

  • Nov. 16 at Nebraska: Langford's 37-yard run with 5:48 to play helped Michigan State finish off a 41-28 win.

  • Nov. 23 at Northwestern: Langford's 37-yard run with 12:37 left ended the scoring in a 30-6 Spartans win.

  • Dec. 7 vs. Ohio State (Big Ten championship): Langford's 26-yard run gave Michigan State a 10-point lead with 3:25 to go, as the Spartans claimed the league title.

Not surprisingly, the dagger against Ohio State in Indianapolis was Langford's favorite spirit-crushing run.

"It was just such a big stage," said Langford who has rushed for 1,338 yards this season.

Langford and the Spartans step onto an even bigger stage Wednesday when they face Stanford in the Rose Bowl Game presented by VIZIO. Although Stanford's defense ranks 18th nationally in fewest points allowed (18.6 ppg), the Cardinal have been outscored 85-82 in the fourth quarter. Blowout wins are part of the reason, although Stanford doesn't have as many double-digit wins as Michigan State.

Like many coaches, MSU's Mark Dantonio emphasizes the need to finish strong, and the offense has responded throughout the season.

"We've capped off pretty much every Big Ten game with one of Jeremy's runs," wide receiver Bennie Fowler said. "He's got that second gear. Finishing is the most important thing."

Although Langford is becoming known for the dagger touchdown runs, his evolution this season stemmed in part from not focusing so much on scoring. Langford didn't distinguish himself during spring practice, and Michigan State went into the summer with a converted linebacker, Riley Bullough, as its top ball-carrier.

It sent a message: grind out the tough yards.

"I was trying to score every play, basically," Langford said. "I wasn't reading the offensive line and making the correct cuts. I was trying to score. Once I started watching Riley, a little more power here and there, that's when I started changing."

MSU offensive coordinator Dave Warner saw greater consistency out of Langford in preseason camp, fewer mental mistakes and fumbles.

"Then he started breaking free at the end of some games," Warner said, "putting that nail in the coffin at the end of football games. There, his confidence grew."

And Langford hasn't looked back.