Michigan State has rebounded from losses before but it hasn’t had many defeats like the 30-6 shellacking it took against Wisconsin last Saturday at Spartan Stadium. The Spartans (2-1, 0-1 Big Ten) will test just how good their resolve is when they travel to Bloomington, Ind., for a prime-time game Saturday against Indiana.
The Hoosiers (2-1, 0-0) are also coming off a home loss, 33-28 against Wake Forest. Junior quarterback Richard Lagow leads the Big Ten, averaging 334 yards passing per game, and set an IU single-game record with 496 yards against Wake Forest but also threw five interceptions in the game.
Michigan State fell to No. 18 in the AP Top 25 and No. 16 in the USA Today coaches poll. Indiana is unranked. Kickoff is scheduled for 8 p.m. ET at Memorial Stadium.
Here are five story lines to watch:
1. How does Tyler O’Connor bounce back?
O’Connor threw three interceptions and completed less than 50 percent (18 of 38) of his pass attempts against Wisconsin. It was just the fourth start of his career, and the first time he’s had a bad game. Wisconsin consistently flushed him out of the pocket with its pass rush and the Badgers secondary forced O’Connor to throw into tight windows with its coverage. After completing 72.7 percent of his passes in the first two games of the season, O’Connor wasn’t accurate against Wisconsin.
2. How do injuries at linebacker affect the Spartans?
Jon Reschke (ankle) is definitely out this week and Riley Bullough (undisclosed) will be a game-day decision, so the depth of the Michigan State linebacker corps will be put to the test. Andrew Dowell is expected to start in place of Reschke at outside linebacker, while Shane Jones is expected to get his second consecutive start at middle linebacker if Bullough is unable to play against the Hoosiers. Chris Frey is expected to start his fourth straight game at the other outside linebacker position.
Ed Davis, who has been granted a sixth season of eligibility by the NCAA after missing last season with a torn ACL, has appeared in only a few snaps the past two games but the Spartans are hopeful he can provide more playing time this week. Sophomore Byron Bullough has been in the rotation this season but redshirt freshman Tyriq Thompson and freshmen Joe Bachie and Brandon Randle could see playing time as well against an Indiana offense that likes to use the no-huddle and speed up the tempo of the game.
3. Can Michigan State get back to winning the turnover battle?
The Spartans were officially minus-2 against Wisconsin while being outscored 13-3 on turnovers. But considering that one of Wisconsin’s turnovers came on a pass on the final play of the first half, while Michigan State also botched a punt snap and gave the Badgers the ball at the Michigan State 5-yard line, it was worse. That’s not who Michigan State is.
The offense has to better protect the ball while the defense can’t let potential takeaways slip through its hands, as happened a couple of times against Wisconsin.
4. Can Michigan State’s defense eliminate the big plays by Indiana?
Given that the Hoosiers have led the Big Ten in pass offense three of the past four seasons, and are doing so again this season, limiting the big plays would be a more reasonable expectation. The pass rush didn’t offer much pressure on Wisconsin quarterback Alex Hornibrook, who completed 8 passes of 15 or more yards against the Spartans. The Spartans allowed 199 yards passing against Notre Dame in the final 19 minutes of that game on Sept. 17.
5. What’s the mentality of this team?
No Michigan State team has lost to a Big Ten team as decisively as this one did in the last six years. But the Spartans have lost games in that time and they’ve always found a way to regroup the next week. Michigan State hasn’t lost consecutive games since 2012, a span of 43 games.
How do the Spartans respond to this adversity?
Kevin Goheen covers Michigan State for Landof10.com. Follow him on Twitter at @CincyGoGo