Turnovers a concern as Spartans eye Big Ten opener
By NOAH TRISTER
EAST LANSING, Mich. (AP) LJ Scott is an experienced running back, a player Michigan State is counting on to provide consistent production on offense.
So far this season, he's been anything but reliable.
Scott already has lost three fumbles in 2017, two of which came near the goal line when the Spartans were on the verge of scoring. After a 3-9 season last year, Michigan State faces enough obstacles without also having to worry about its top players giving the ball away. Scott is part of a running back group that the team should be able to lean on, but he has to cut down on the turnovers.
"It's my third year here. We're one of the strongest parts of the offense," Scott said. "It should not be happening."
Michigan State (2-1) lost 38-18 to Notre Dame last weekend. The Spartans had nearly 500 yards of total offense, but three first-half turnovers kept the game from being close. Scott fumbled into the end zone, and quarterback Brian Lewerke lost a fumble of his own and had an interception run back for a touchdown.
Michigan State has allowed two touchdowns on fumble returns this year, as well as the Notre Dame interception return. With the Spartans' Big Ten opener against Iowa (3-1, 0-1) coming up Saturday, taking care of the ball is obviously a priority.
"We continue to work ball security drills and try and make them as game-like as we can," Michigan State coach Mark Dantonio said Tuesday. "But there is nothing like the game when it's real contact, real physical contact, and you really can't simulate that totally in every practice."
Scott isn't the only culprit. The team has lost six fumbles in three games. Lewerke had one last weekend that gave Notre Dame possession just outside the red zone.
It's an issue the Spartans can address during the week, to some extent.
"We have ball security-emphasis drills, where there's guys trying to strip the ball out next to you," said Lewerke, who has emerged as a running threat for Michigan State in addition to his passing. "It's kind of just a focus on, when you're running, just have to think about holding onto the ball, not fumbling."
The last time Michigan State faced Iowa was in the 2015 Big Ten title game. Scott scored the winning touchdown when he twisted and reached the ball out toward the end zone with one hand . Not the greatest display of ball security, but it worked.
"The ball could have come out but it didn't, and everybody celebrated," Dantonio said. "So sometimes it doesn't catch up to you until it catches up to you. But he's been a very good back."
Now Scott is trying to kick this fumbling habit before it turns into an even bigger problem. In addition to the more formal drills the Spartans can work on, Scott says he also has been carrying a ball around with him while teammates try to knock it away.
"Just going room to room, wherever - a team meeting room, locker room," Scott said. "It's crucial in the locker room because ain't no coaches can say stop. So it's everybody just beating on me. Everybody's just beating on me.
"I guess I deserve it at this point, but at the end of the day, it'll definitely help me. I shouldn't be at this point right now."
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Updated September 26, 2017