December 31, 2013

Langford's patience a big payoff

PASADENA - It's interesting that one of the assumptions by a Rose Bowl reporter asking questions about Jeremy Langford labeled the junior running back as the kind of performer that Langford has worked hardest on to shed in his first full season as a starter.

Despite practicing and focusing on patience and getting the hard yards, Langford, who enters No. 4 Michigan State's 5 p.m. matchup with No. 5 Stanford is still considered and looked at by some as still more of a home run threat and a closer in the Spartans' run game than an every down back.

Of course, you can't blame Cardinal defenders like fifth-year Stanford senior linebacker and team captain Shayne Skov for his unit's philosophy of how to limit Langford's success, especially after a season where the fourth-year player and two-year letterwinner has run for an impressive 1.338 yards on 269 carries and score a team-leading 17 touchdowns.

"I think defensively we pride ourselves on playing four quarters of dominant defense,'' Skov said. "So it's attacking the line of scrimmage, playing gaps down in the run game, and from there letting guys make plays. I think it's more predicated on us trying to be aggressive and following through the four quarters.''

Skov's dissection and the Cardinal's approach is something that most teams the Spartans have faced this season have aspired to in an effort to take away the run game from MSU's offense.

But Langford, behind a powerful and veteran offensive line has been able to counteract a defenses ability to gain control over the offense up front, which has just led to continuous improvements in the run game all season.

In the Spartans' last eight games, where Langford carried the ball 20 or more times in each contest and established a school-record for consecutive 100-yard finishes, he has had at least one run of 30 yards or more in six of those eight contests.

And in five of those contests, he has had a touchdown run of 20 yards or more in the second half. Additionally, he has only failed to score a touchdown just once in MSU's last eight games.

But it's what Langford did prior to those closeout scores and runs that has defined his development and success as the Spartans' No. 1 running back.

As a Big Ten running back, you don't get to the home run or closing TD run unless you have mastered the art of patience when only 2, 3, and 4 yard carries are available during the grind-it-out portions that occur in many Big Ten contests.

"I know once I had the opportunity, I had to make the best of it, and that's what I did, and that was to help the team out,'' Langford said. "Getting the tough yards and knowing you're not going to score every play, you have to get the four yards and three yards here to be successful and help our offense out and put us in 2nd-and-short situations.''

And it's paid off.

During MSU's last five games, when Langford TD runs of 26 yards or more in the fourth quarter all but sealed four of those contests - and another fourth quarter sprint of 44 yards that didn't result in a touchdown against Minnesota - he averaged 36.8 yards a carry.

But he set up those game-clinching runs by averaging 4.05 yards a carry on the other 123 attempts.

In effect, those lengthy late game finishes were set up by some hard work, commitment and determination. They were also set up by a learning curve that required Langford to truly understand how to be a successful and productive running back when the big play was not always available.

It was something Langford, who previously repped at wide receiver and cornerback had to learn and develop, and at the urging of his father, study in order to master the patience every good running back displays when every down counts.

"It started (at the) beginning in (summer) camp. It was (always) a competition, (to) make (yourself) better. At Michigan State there's a lot of competition and we compete a lot, and I think that pushed (me) more throughout the season to work for my opportunities because I knew it wasn't going to be given to me. I'm glad that situation happened. It made me a better player.''

There may not be a better indication of that growth then in the Big Ten championship game, the game MSU needed to win to solidify a trip to Pasadena.

Over the course of 24 carries, Langford's patience was tested throughout the game.

He finished the game with just three carries of 15 or more yards and had 12 runs of three yards or less.

In a game that truly tested his patience against a very good Ohio State defense, Langford came through in a big way by compiling the hard yards on the ground when MSU needed them most on offense.

He will be looking to repeat that approach in the Rose Bowl. The approach that has transformed him from a home run threat into an every-down back.

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