After Michigan State let their foot off the gas in what seemed like a dominant road win in Minneapolis, PJ Fleck’s Gophers rallied to hang 21 fourth quarter points on the Spartans, before ultimately falling to MSU 30-27 in a highly entertaining game.
Despite a shaky fourth quarter, the Spartans came out of that game 5-1 and are now winners of their last three as they welcome the 3-3 Indiana Hoosiers into Spartan Stadium to do battle in MSU’s Homecoming game.
Indiana is coming off a tight 27-20 overtime loss against Michigan. The Hoosiers had the ball on the Wolverines’ 5-yard line with four downs to find the endzone and force a second overtime, but the stout Michigan defense prevailed. Despite their .500 record, head coach Mark Dantonio knows just how formidable of an opponent first-year coach Tom Allen’s Hoosiers are.
“They’ve played three outstanding opponents that they have lost to in Penn State, Ohio State and Michigan,” Dantonio said. “I’ve been very impressed with how they play the game. They play hard.”
MSU is coming off a game in which they finally found their first 100-yard rusher on the season. Junior tailback LJ Scott had the breakout game every Spartan fan was waiting for, rushing for 194 yards and 2 touchdowns on a hefty load of 25 carries. Madre London provided a steady ground attack as well, carrying it 16 times for 74 yards and a score as well.
“I think we have talent at that position,” Dantonio said. “ I think we did a nice job with some of the things we did conceptually, [we]got him [Scott] into certain areas to the second level where he could use his skill set, where both those guys could use their skill sets.”
Weather conditions were unfavorable for the second straight week as the Spartan aerial attack struggled mightily. Quarterback Brian Lewerke went just 9-for-18 for 120 yards with no touchdowns as well as throwing an interception. Junior Felton Davis led the Spartans receivers with just 35 yards on only two catches.
The Spartan defense was dominant for the majority of the game, allowing only six points through three quarters. The wheels fell off the wagon as the defense was gashed in the fourth quarter, giving up 166 yards in the quarter alone, and allowing 21 points. MSU was able to recover two Gopher onside kick attempts and three kneel-downs to pull out the win in TCF Bank Stadium.
After his breakout game in Ann Arbor against the Wolverines, defensive end Kenny Willekes continued his disruptive play. The former walk-on had five total tackles and had one of the two Spartan sacks on the night.
“He [Willekes] has always had that leadership coming from the linebacker position and leading our group,” defensive tackles coach Ron Burton said. “We’re proud of what he’s doing.”
The Spartans defense will have their hands full with what may be the most difficult passing attack they’ve faced all season. Redshirt freshman quarterback Peyton Ramsey leads this up-tempo Hoosier attack that is averaging 28 points per game, sixth best in the Big Ten. This offense runs through junior receiver Simmie Cobbs Jr., the Hoosiers leading receiver who is second in the Big Ten in receptions per game (6.2) and fourth in receiving yards per game (68.2)
“He’s [Ramsey’s] a coach’s kid, he understands the game,” Burton said. “ …he’s a triple-threat, poised, he understands the game and that’s a good thing for them.”
On the flip side, the Hoosiers defense gives up 172 rushing yards per game, and after allowing Michigan to run for 271 yards last weekend, have now allowed 240-plus rushing yards in three of their six games played this season. Senior linebacker Tegray Scales anchors the defense, leading the team in tackles, tackles for loss and sacks and will be a huge key in stopping the Spartan ground game.
Scott will look to carry over his performance from Minnesota against this leaky Hoosier run defense, and will need to carry the bulk of the load on the ground for the Spartans. Scott was arrested Wednesday for his seventh driving infraction in the span of 20 months. Dantonio said in a statement Friday that while Scott’s status would be affected during the game, MSU plans for the junior running back to play. With Gerald Holmes being listed as questionable for Saturday, expect to see a sizeable workload from London.
The Spartans know the importance of these next two games and the possible scenario it could set up with Penn State in three weeks, but their sole focus is on getting by Indiana. With clear weather forecasted, Lewerke is going to have to let the ball fly on this Hoosier secondary, which allows 180.8 yards per game. MSU will need to develop a balanced offensive attack to find success.
Indiana is a team who have turned the ball over 13 times and have forced just four turnovers, so the turnover battle will be a huge focus for the Hoosiers if they want to spoil the Spartans’ homecoming game. If MSU wants to prove they’re a legitimate threat in the Big Ten East, they’ll need to get by Indiana, but everything on paper suggests it’ll be a legitimate test in several areas.