It’s been a long week for Michigan State. Last Saturday, the Spartans honored one former teammate who had passed away in the summer only to hear the news of another death in the MSU football family early Sunday morning. They also lost their Big Ten opener to Wisconsin, although losing a football game is hardly tragic.
The Spartans will try to get the football focus back Saturday night in Bloomington when they face the Indiana Hoosiers at Memorial Stadium. Kickoff is scheduled for 8 p.m. on the Big Ten Network. The teams play for the Old Brass Spittoon, a trophy Michigan State has won seven times in a row. Mark Dantonio has never lost to Indiana but it will take more than a one-sided history to keep that streak going.
Indiana went to its first bowl game in nearly a decade last year and just its second in the last 22 years. Kevin Wilson is in his sixth season at IU. He has the program moving forward, although that can be tough to tell at times in the Big Ten East, where Michigan State, Ohio State and Michigan reside.
Here’s a closer look at the matchup:
When Michigan State has the ball
Expect to see a return to the run game. The Spartans had more than 90 rushing attempts in their first two games but were held to just 27 carries for 75 yards against Wisconsin. Indiana plays a base defense that uses just two linebackers, inviting teams to run against it. Wake Forest ran the ball 50 times last week in its 33-28 win over the Hoosiers.
Emphasizing the run with LJ Scott, Gerald Holmes and Madre Londo is something Michigan State wants to do anyway. It sets up play-action passing opportunities for quarterback Tyler O’Connor, who must be more accurate with his throws this week after 3 interceptions against Wisconsin. An effective run game will also help keep Indiana’s potent offense off the field.
Advantage: Michigan State
When Indiana has the ball
Junior quarterback Richard Lagow threw for a school-record 496 yards last week against Wake Forest. The problem for him was the 5 interceptions he had. Not all were his fault but 5 turnovers aren’t good no matter who is responsible. Still, Indiana is averaging 31 points per game.
Lagow has a trio of wide receivers he favors led by senior Ricky Jones, who caught 8 passes last week for 208 yards, but the Hoosiers aren’t just throwing the ball. Junior Devine Redding is averaging more than 100 yards a game. In their last 16 games, Indiana running backs have lost just 2 fumbles.
Michigan State did well against the run against Wisconsin but was hurt by a lack of pass rush, particularly on third down. The pass defense must be tighter this week. The Spartans will definitely be without junior linebacker Jon Reschke and possibly without senior linebacker Riley Bullough. It won’t just be replacements Andrew Dowell and Shane Jones who have to step up against an up-tempo Hoosiers offense.
Kickoff specialist Kevin Cronin has sent one ball out of bounds in each of Michigan State’s first three games. Indiana’s offense doesn’t need the additional help. On that note, when the Spartans have to punt, Jake Hartbarger needs to have a good day directional kicking as he did at Notre Dame.
Indiana returner Mitchell Paige averaged 11.1 yards on punt returns last season. It wouldn’t be a crime to punt away from him. Michigan State is still looking for a big play or three out of its return game. It just hasn’t happened yet, although the coaches are confident redshirt freshman Darrell Stewart is capable of breaking loose.
IU’s Griffin Oakes was the Big Ten kicker of the year last season after making 24 of 29 field goals. He’s 4-for-6 this season. Michael Geiger had two confident kicks last week against Wisconsin, making attempts from 48 and 40 yards.
Kevin Wilson knows offense. He went out and hired coordinator Tom Allen from South Florida in the hopes of instilling some fortitude into the Hoosiers defense. It’s hardly a rock-solid unit but the IU defense is better and opportunistic when it comes to takeaways.
Mark Dantonio wasn’t upset about his team’s effort against Wisconsin. Its ability to execute plays left much to be desired. That’s something that can be fixed. It helps having a staff of assistants that is well-entrenched in the program.
Advantage: Michigan State
Michigan State hasn’t started 0-2 in the Big Ten since 2007. It hasn’t lost two games in a row in four years. This is a game the Spartans have to win if they want to keep in touch with Ohio State and Michigan in the East. It’s a game they typically find a way to win. It won’t be easy. Wilson was given a six-year contract extension after taking IU to a bowl game last year. He has gotten a commitment from IU few Hoosiers coaches have in the past. This team can score, which makes it dangerous, but this is the type of game Indiana finds a way not to win.
Kevin Goheen’s prediction: Michigan State 30, Indiana 26
Luke Srodulski’s prediction: Michigan State 33, Indiana 28
Kevin Goheen covers Michigan State for Landof10.com. Follow him on Twitter at @CincyGoGo
Luke Srodulski covers Michigan State recruiting for Landof10.com. Follow him on Twitter at @lsrodulski