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September 20, 2008When the bruising, 255-pound Jehuu Caulcrick was still terrorizing linebackers and defensive backs on the Michigan State schedule, there was the perception that his running mate-Javon Ringer-was a one-dimensional back.
Rather than give the ball to the small, lightweight running back, Caulcrick was the appropriate choice. That's why Caulcrick scored 21 touchdowns last season to a mere six by Ringer.
But now that Caulcrick is gone, Spartan foes are learning that Ringer-one of four Michigan State captains-is a combination of all the attributes a coach looks for in a running back.
"He has it all," said Irish linebacker Maurice Crum Jr. "I've seen him show speed, I've seen him show power, patience...
"He does a great job of staying behind his line, and when the hole opens up, he has that burst to get through. He's been doing an excellent job in their scheme. You have to play him honest."
Ringer already has scored nine touchdowns this season to go along with his 498 yards on 104 carries (4.8-yard average) against Cal, Eastern Michigan and Florida Atlantic. At his current pace, he will threaten the 2,000-yard mark after gaining 2,761 yards-at 6.1 yards per clip-in his first three years.
"(Ringer) likes to do everything," said Irish defensive coordinator Corwin Brown. "He is a complete back. If this conversation were coming at the end of the year, we would probably talk about him being up for the Heisman.
"He can run inside, he can run outside, he has really good balance, he can carry the ball going either way, he's a really good cutback runner and he sees the hole very well. It will be a challenge for us."
Heisman Trophy? Brown isn't the only one to put Ringer in that conversation.
"He's without a doubt a Heisman hopeful," said Irish strong safety Kyle McCarthy. "He's got that kind of talent."
Crum said that when he and his defensive mates prepare for an opponent, they study the running style of the backs on film. Usually, there is a few telltale signs that prompt the defense to play the back a certain way.
If he's a cutback runner, you can't fly to the sideline. If he doesn't cut it back, you can play the running back to the outside shoulder a bit more. If he's a scatback, you don't have to worry as much about being perfectly squared up.
The problem with Ringer is that he's a little bit of everything.
"The more and more tape I watch of him, he's not only quick, but he shakes off tackles," said Irish defensive tackle Pat Kuntz. "I'd probably compare him to (former Michigan running back) Mike Hart. He's very shifty and he's hard to bring down."
Many thought that Ringer didn't have the power to be a complete back, and thus, Michigan State's penchant to use Caulcrick on the goal line and in short-yardage situations. But at 5-foot-9, 202 pounds, Ringer is no lightweight.
"He has very strong legs," Weis said. "Sometimes when look at a 200-pounder, you think you can just muscle him and rough him up. But he's a very powerful young man. He breaks a lot of tackles. He doesn't go down very easily.
"Everyone thinks because he is small that he doesn't run with power. He can run the ball inside with power."
Kuntz has formulated a game plan for Ringer.
"You've got to drive your legs when you hit him," Kuntz said. "No arm tackles are going to bring him down. He's a very good running back. We're going to have to gang tackle, fly around and wrap up."
Ringer is not a big cutback runner per se. Once he goes to the corner, he prefers to ride that path until he runs out of real estate along the sideline. But it's a mistake to think that Ringer won't cut it back against the grain.
"He's a guy who likes to go to the corner," said Irish free safety David Bruton. "But you've got to also be patient because he'll cut back on you if you over-pursue.
"He's a jump-cutter as well. He's patient, but he'll take it to the corner if he has the chance. You've got to be prepared for a stiff arm or a jump cut."
Irish Mike linebacker Brian Smith is impressed with Ringer's no-nonsense approach.
"He's a good north-south runner," Smith said. "If he has to bounce it, he will. But his primary goal is to get the ball north and south. That's always a great trait to have as a running back, not to mention that he's slippery. He makes a lot of people miss and breaks a lot of tackles."
Notre Dame nose tackle Ian Williams sees Ringer as a little bit of everything.
"He can break through arm tackles," Williams said. "He can run down hill, he uses his speed, he can juke you. He's a complete back."
Ringer's 43-carry, 282-yard performance against Florida Atlantic opened a lot of eyes. He didn't fumble once in the rain. He had 34 carries for 135 yards against Eastern Michigan and 81 yards on 27 carries versus Cal.
Ringer also will catch the football out of the backfield. He had 35 receptions in '07 and has three so far this year. He also returns kickoffs. Anyway the Spartans can get him the football, they will.
Kuntz is just happy to see a more conventional, traditional offensive attack after facing two spread offenses in San Diego State and Michigan.
"It's right up my alley," said Kuntz of Michigan State's offensive approach. "Smash mouth, come at you every play...That's the kind of football I've been raised on.
"They're going to come at us. They're big, they're strong, and they're physical."
And they have a ringleader in Javon Ringer.