EAST LANSING (LANSING STATE JOURNAL) - It was a micro issue among Michigan State's macro problems on offense, but the Spartans waited all season for one running back to emerge.
Jeremy Langford did more than that today. He stole the homecoming spotlight.
The junior scored four times - three on the ground and one on a reception - as the Spartans' offense erupted for six offensive touchdowns in a 42-28 victory over Indiana.
"Jeremy had quite a day today," quarterback Connor Cook said. "Seeing him succeed out there, with the whole balance of passing and running, it's a great and reassuring feeling - especially as a quarterback - to know we can run the ball like we did."
MSU (5-1, 2-0 Big Ten) will host Purdue next week at noon (BTN). And its offense, which gained a season-high 473 yards, finally seems to be discovering a balance and rhythm that Mark Dantonio has chased since he took over as head coach in 2007.
Still, today was all about "Pound GreenPound," the ethos of the 1987 team that made the program's last Rose Bowl appearance. The Spartans simply overpowered their opponent, and they did so by going both over and around the Hoosiers (3-3, 1-1).
MSU outrushed Indiana, 238-92, led by Langford's 109 yards on 23 carries that flashed speed, agility and power. He was joined by true freshman Delton Williams, whose 12 carries for 92 yards served more as a battering ram to tire out Indiana's defense. And speedy true freshman receiver R.J. Shelton, a converted running back, hurdled his way to a 34-yard touchdown run that put the game out of reach in early in the fourth quarter.
"If the pass game's good, the run game's good," Langford said. "It plays hand-in-hand."
Cook continued to gain confidence in his fifth straight start, completing 22 of 31 passes for 235 yards and one late interception. He threw for two of MSU's three second-quarter scores, an 11-yard screen pass to Langford and a 34-yard strike to Bennie Fowler, which gave them a lead they would not relinquish.
Cook also helped MSU convert 10 of 14 third-down attempts in the game, which kept drives alive and helped MSU to a nearly 15-minute advantage in time of possession.
"I think defenses aren't blitzing as much as they were early on, and that's opening up the passing game," Cook said. "And with us being successful in the passing game, that's opening up doors for the offense."
Defensively, the Spartans yielded their most yards (351) and points allowed of the season. However, it was the lowest yardage output of the season for the Hoosiers' video game, hurry-up offense that came in averaging 535 a game.
Still, Indiana's rapid-fire attack paid immediate dividends. On the Hoosiers' fourth play from scrimmage, Tevin Coleman took a shotgun handoff and exploded through a huge hole in the line, then zipped through converging Spartan defenders Isaiah Lewis and Taiwan Jones to go 64 yards untouched for a touchdown.
Time elapsed: 1:01. Score: Indiana 7-0. It looked like it would be a long day for MSU's defense.
"We did the best we could in practice (this week). It's a tough thing to simulate," MSU linebacker Max Bullough said. "It's a tough thing to simulate during the week - likewise, their offense is. They do what they do, and they do it quickly. That's the hard part when you play a team like Indiana."
MSU's offense sputtered at the start, going three-and-out on its first two drives while using just 1:56 on those possessions.
Meantime, Indiana kept the ball for more than 5½ minutes on its two drives after the TD, yet failed to score on either - the first despite a drive-lengthening personal foul penalty on MSU's Kurtis Drummond, and the second because of 25 penalty yards by the Hoosiers.
When the Spartans took over again for their third drive, they needed a long march. They got one, plus seven points to tie the game.
MSU milked nearly s7 minutes off the clock between the end of the first quarter and start of the second while going 83 yards in 15 plays. Cook completed two critical third-down passes, then connected with Langford on a third-down screen pass that went for 11 yards and the score.
The Spartans' next drive took 4½ minutes. On third-and-6, Cook hit a wide-open Bennie Fowler on a crossing route with plenty of grass in front of him. Three Indiana defenders finally got near the senior receiver inside the 10, but he broke one tackle and faked out the other two Hoosiers for a 34-yard TD.
Indiana tied it after a fumbled punt by MSU's Macgarrett Kings Jr. However, the Spartans reclaimed a 21-14 lead before halftime with another time-consuming drive when Langford burst through the right side for 5 yards and his first rushing score of the day with 37 seconds remaining.
"We're up in the press box saying, 'Tick tock, tick tock, let that clock run,' " MSU defensive coordinator Pat Narduzzi said. "Our offense did a great job of controlling the ball."
MSU continued to play keep-away to open the second half, with Langford's 2-yard scoring run closing a nine-play, 75-yard drive that took nearly five minutes.
After an Indiana TD made it 28-21, the Spartans put the game away on Langford's best run of the day - which happened to be another third down conversion. The 6-foot, 206-pounder from Wayne powered through one diving tackle attempt in the backfield, sprinted around the left end and then outraced two Hoosiers defensive backs for a 32-yard score.
"We just talked about playing hard - getting the yards, breaking tackles and making somebody miss," Langford said. "That's what we did during practice, and that's what we did today."
MSU went 3 for 3 inside the red zone and, for the first time this season, didn't even attempt a field goal with how efficient its offense operated. The Spartans converted touchdowns on just 12 of 21 (57%) trips inside their opponents' 20-yard line entering today.
"I feel we just took it upon ourselves as a team, as a unit, about it earlier in the week," Cook said. "We made it personal."