EAST LANSING — For the first time since the season opener, the Michigan State Spartans will be back on their home turf as they welcome the No.10 Indiana Hoosiers to Spartan Stadium.
After knocking off Michigan on the road, the Spartans were spanked by Iowa 49-7 last Saturday. The Hawkeyes—who came into the game with an 0-2 record—ran for 226 yards while limiting the Spartans to 59 rushing yards on the game. MSU quarterback Rocky Lombardi also had a forgettable game, as he threw for three interceptions and completed less than half of his passes.
Knocking off the Hoosiers will be a tough task for the young Spartans. Indiana comes into Saturday’s game sporting a 3-0 record, including a road win over Rutgers and two home wins over Penn State and Michigan.
Indiana defeated Michigan 38-21 last week behind the strength of a 342-yard, three-touchdown outburst from Indiana quarterback Michael Penix Jr. Penix—along with receiver Ty Fryfogle, who had 142 receiving yards and a score against Michigan—lit up the inexperienced Wolverine secondary. Saturday’s victory marked the first win over Michigan since 1987 for the Hoosiers.
Penix has been one of the better passers in the country through three games. He has thrown for 750 yards and seven touchdowns along with only one interception so far. A strong supporting cast of running back Stevie Scott III and receivers Whop Philyor and Fryfogle make the Hoosiers’ offense one of the more explosive offenses in the nation.
Philyor is the current receiving leader for Indiana with 252 yards through three games. Scott, meanwhile, has rushed for 235 yards including 3.6 yards per carry.
The Hoosiers are led by head coach Tom Allen, who is in his fourth season at the program. After a couple of mediocre years, Allen led the Hoosiers to an 8-4 record and a berth in the Gator Bowl last season. Despite narrowly losing the Gator Bowl to Tennessee, Allen has the program on a definite upswing.
Keys for a Spartan Victory
If the Spartans are going to have a shot at winning Saturday, they will need to run the ball exceptionally well against a mediocre Indiana defensive line. MSU managed to run for only 59 yards on 32 carries last week against Iowa.
MSU has also had some trouble getting after the quarterback in recent weeks. After sacking Rutgers quarterback Noah Vedral twice, the Spartans only managed one sack in each of the next two games. Defensive ends Jacub Panasiuk and Drew Beesley will be tasked with knocking Penix off of his game early and often.
Wide receiver Jayden Reed has been held in check each of the last two weeks. After having a career-high 11 reception, 128-yard day against Rutgers, he has only caught two passes for 25 yards over the last two games. Reed, along with true freshman receiver Ricky White, will need to have a more significant impact than they did against Iowa if the Spartans are going to have any chance of knocking off the Hoosiers.
Lastly, the offensive line needs to give Lombardi some time to throw. With Reed, White and Jalen Nailor, the Spartans have three quick receivers who can stretch the field vertically, but Lombardi was unable to get into a rhythm last week since the MSU offensive line couldn’t keep him upright. The Iowa defense sacked Lombardi twice and registered seven tackles for loss over the course of the game. It’s safe to say that won’t suffice against Indiana.
Michigan State: 17
This is a game that the Hoosiers normally don’t win. Allen is 0-3 all-time against Michigan State, but this isn’t your typical Indiana team. The Hoosiers are head and shoulders above the Spartans from a talent perspective, and I don’t think the Spartans have the defensive fortitude to shut down Penix, Scott, Philyor and Fryfogle. MSU coach Mel Tucker will have his guys ready to go early, but as the game wears on, the Hoosiers will slowly but surely wear the Spartans out. Indiana will continue its season for the ages with a gritty road win over a hungry Michigan State team.
Nathan Stearns is a football beat reporter for WDBM Sports. Follow him on Twitter at @NathanStearns11.