It is game day's eve once again and we're here for another closer look at the opponent and what the Hoosiers are going to have to do to win. For the first time this season the Hoosiers are taking their gig on the road to face off with Michigan State in East Lansing. The Hoosiers are looking to make a big statement and show they're a real threat in this conference season by walking away with a win. Michigan State is going to make sure it won't be easy.
Surprisingly, Michigan State has actually struggled quite a bit in their recent stretch of home games. They lost all four conference games at home last season while grabbing three on the road. If that sounds incredibly backwards to you, it's because it is. And it isn't necessarily because they had a grueling home schedule. The losses include dropping games to Ohio State, Iowa, Nebraska and Northwestern. Certainly no cake walk, but no murderers row either.
So what does that have to do with this season? Not necessarily an awful lot other than to point out that Michigan State is vulnerable in their own building. They've pulled off some wins in some very unimpressive manners so far this year as well. Getting past bad Western Michigan and South Florida teams with little room to spare. That being said, they're still an opponent just on the outside of being ranked with their sole loss coming against Notre Dame at Notre Dame.
With that background in place, let's get to the actual game this Saturday. Indiana is trying to follow up one of their bigger wins of this decade with a bigger one in a road win at Michigan State. The Hoosiers, however, will be meeting up with an immovable object in the MSU defense. There is some hope for going up against the nation's #1 defense so far. They haven't really played a super competitive schedule yet. At 63rd in the nation, the Michigan State defense hasn't seen an offense like Indiana's yet.
The biggest cause for concern for Indiana tomorrow is going to be Shilique Calhoun, the defensive end for the Spartans. Calhoun has had an all-conference season to date by forcing fumbles, picking of passes and getting good pressure on the quarterback. That's the biggest threat to Indiana. The Hoosiers O-Line is still pretty beat up with the loss of another lineman. However they did a pretty good job of containing the pressure from Penn State. Luckily for Indiana, the rest of the Spartans defensive line has struggled to generate any pressure without the help of a blitz.
If the line can just hold for a little bit forcing Michigan State to blitz if they want instant pressure then the Hoosiers will be at an advantage. If MSU is bringing a linebacker or safety on a blitz the middle of the field will be wide open for Ted Bolser. I expect him to have the biggest receiving day for Indiana as Cody Latimer after 3 consecutive +130 yard games will be the sole focus of Darqueze Dennard. Dennard is likely one of the best corners in the nation and with some good size for a corner should be able to handle Latimer's size and strength. That means the rest of the receivers are going to have to abuse their match ups. The best candidate for that would be the TE Bolser if MSU is forced to blitz for pressure.
On the other side of the ball it has been well documented how much Michigan State has struggled. Their offense has shown some life in the recent weeks, but it is still far from intimidating. Last week against Iowa, MSU had 6 separate drives that started at or beyond midfield. They still only walked away with 26 points. Two touchdowns and 4 field goals.
So as you can see, Michigan State still struggles to move the football up and down the field. Connor Cook set a personal best for him with 277 yards passing and two touchdowns to go with one interception. His average per attempt was only 6.3 yards though. The passing game just isn't a huge threat. Of course, Indiana's defense has the reputation of coming up small in the biggest situations, so you still never know.
Where the Hoosiers are more likely to come up with a dud is in the run game. Michigan State will throw the kitchen sink at you if given the opportunity. Against Iowa, six different players had rushing carries. The biggest threat from their ground game though comes in the form of Jeremy Langford. He's been their primary back and carried for 4.3 yards per carry.
Much like Zach Zwinak last week, Langford is going to move the chains, but is unlikely to break of big chunks of yardage. Nick Hill will be the change of pace back for Sparty as he's shifty and more apt to find open field when given a decent block. Hill has only broken 10 carries in a game once this year, but he's recorded several runs of over 20 yards. He really is a boom or bust guy though. When he's not running for 20 yards he's more than likely running for 2. Contain him and make solid tackles and Indiana will survive.
The only time a back has broken the 20 carry threshold for MSU is when Langford ran for exactly 20 attempts in the first game of the season. Passing yardage and rushing yardage averages for this team on the season are near identical at 178 yards passing and 177 rushing. They just don't move the ball well or score a ton of points.
In the end the biggest thing Indiana needs to do to win this game is not let the defense beat them. If the Hoosiers make mistakes on offense that result in stellar field position or the Spartan defense putting points on the board trouble could build up quickly. If not, Indiana has a very real shot a pulling off the upset. I'm optimistic about Indiana's chances in this one, but think they'll fall short in the end. Indiana 17 - Michigan State 24