This matchup features the best defense in the Big Ten versus the second best offense. The Spartans, 4-1, have only lost at Notre Dame and have never allowed more than 17 points in a game. The Hoosiers, 3-2, haven’t scored less than 28 points all season.
Last season, the Hoosiers nearly pulled off an upset against MSU. IU had a 27-14 halftime lead before the Spartans shut the Hoosiers out in the second half, leading to a 31-27 loss. Last years’ game was a classic case of coach Kevin Wilson and his staff not making second half adjustments. IU was out coached last season, a trend that can’t continue to happen.
Here’s what to watch for:
- Strength vs Strength. We mentioned the scoring stats for both teams. The Spartans are the best defense in the conference and IU is the second best offense. The Hoosiers currently are averaging 535 yards while MSU has held its opponents to under 204 yards per game. Michigan State isn’t just dominant against one facet of play, they’re great against both the pass and the run. IU has to find a way sustain drives against a defense that allows just a 22-percent conversion rate on third down.
- Darqueze Dennard vs Cody Latimer. Dennard is an excellent corner and will likely go up against Latimer, IU’s best receiver. Latimer’s ability to get open deep will be key for a Hoosiers offense that thrives on big plays. IU likes to stretch the field as it opens up running lanes underneath and allow the Hoosiers to keep opponents on their heels.
- Penalties. MSU’s secondary has a tendency to commit a lot of penalties. When the Spartans played Notre Dame, they were penalized 10 times for 115 yards (can you guess why MSU lost?). It’s very likely that the refs could determine the outcome of this game, and that a couple of pass interference calls will keep IU drives alive.
- Weakness vs Weakness. While the two teams strengths of these teams will go head-to-head, so will the weaknesses. IU has the worst defense in the Big Ten and MSU is in the bottom fourth of the conference on offense. While MSU is fairly good at running the ball, it is terrible in the passing game. Quarterback Connor Cook is averaging 5.5 yards per passing attempt and completing 54-percent of his passes. He does do a good job of managing the game and has thrown just one interception all season. The MSU line also does a great job protecting its QBs and has given up just three sacks all season. IU has to find a way to stop MSU on first and second down to get the Spartans in obvious passing situations. Then they have to find a way to get pressure on Cook.
- Skewed Numbers. Cook has thrown seven touchdowns this season, but four of them came in a 55-17 win over Youngstown State. Aside from that game, his best came last week against Iowa where he had two touchdowns, completed 57-percent of his passes and threw an interception. He’s looked awfully mediocre in his three starts.
- Adjustments. We said it before but it bears repeating: Coach Wilson has to adjust to what the defense gives him. Last season, MSU moved to a press coverage defense to lock down the IU receivers at the line and throw off the timing. The Hoosiers have to make changes in the play calling if that happens again. Not making any changes at halftime killed IU last season. IU entered that game with a stellar plan, but simply didn’t adapt. Its one of the problems with Wilson and his coaches. He believes that his offensive system can beat any opponent, but that’s simply not going to cut it in the Big Ten.
A win puts the Hoosiers firmly on the path towards a bowl game. Were not going to get crazy and say they can challenge a team like Ohio State, but they could head to a decent bowl this season. IU has at best three more winnable games on the schedule (Minnesota, Illinois, Purdue) but beating MSU would be a quality win.
The Hoosiers almost beat MSU last season, and are a better team this season. I like their chances to pull off the upset.
IU wins on the road 25-21.
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