Game Info / How to Watch
Who? Michigan State Spartans (7-0, #26 S&P+) v. Indiana Hoosiers (4-3, #62 S&P+)
When? Saturday, 10/17, 3:30 PM, East Lansing, Michigan
Channel? ABC / ESPN2
Vegas? INDIANA +16.5
Fresh off one of the finer collapses in recent collegiate football memory, the Indiana Hoosiers must now head up to the Mitten and take on the team that managed to break their opponent's hearts just a little bit more than Rutgers broke ours.
Which reminds me: how you would rather lose a home game? Slowly burning away a 25 point lead over the final 20 minutes of a game or turning it over on one of the final plays of the game with a 4-point lead and watching the other team race into the endzone as time expires? Both are gut-wrenching in their own special ways, it's a debate worth having. However, I think the answer is clear: sports are dumb and should be watched by no one.
Anyway, time to
disrespect evaluate this week's opponent: the Michigan State Spartans!
(EDITOR'S NOTE: see a term you don't understand / want to know more about? CLICK HERE.)
THE OPPONENT: (#26 S&P+: #30 Offense, #34 Defense)
The Spartans, much like their basketball team, find excellence by not being trememndously bad at anything. Of the Five Factors, only their offensive explosiveness (24th) and ability to finish drives with points (31st) stand out as approaching "elite" status. Their worst attribute, offensive efficiency, sees them come in at 73rd, which isn't ideal, but hardly a huge issue given how explosive Sparty can be, particularly through the air. Michigan State's big plays are fueled almost explosively through the air, where they rank 22nd in such plays, compared to their ranking of 97th on the ground.
Connor Cook's overall ability as a passer is a time-honored tradition of any discussion regarding Big Ten quarterbacking, and his stat line from the season doesn't provide a ton of clarity. His 1600+ yards, 13 scores and only 2 interceptions are impressive, but paired with his 57.4% completion rate and you begin to see why Sparty has some issues keeping their offense on schedule.
Of course, being ranked 103rd in rushing success rate will also take a toll on a team's ability to stay on schedule, especially when only 12 teams in the county are running the ball more on standard downs (1st down, 2nd and 7 or fewer, 3rd and 4 or fewer, fourth and four or fewer). Put simply: when the down and distance gives an equal chance of running or passing, the Spartans are running 71.2% of the time, over 11% more than the national average. But their inability to create successful plays when they do run is leading to a lot of 3rd and longs, which they're then picking up, with some regularity, through the air. Just look at their down-by-down S&P+ rating:
1st Down: 97th
2nd Down: 38th
3rd down: 8th
Remember how, for a long time, Indiana's maligned defense would seem to get a couple good stops and leave an offense with 3rd and 8 or more? Only for that offense to then hit a guy deep down the field to pick up the first and break off another small, but valuable, piece of our soul? Michigan State has been doing that to teams ALL YEAR.
Defensively, Michigan State is lead by a defensive line that is 15th in the nation at getting into the backfield and screwing things up for passers and running backs, something known as their Havoc rating, which is just a combined count of their sacks, tackles for loss, forced fumbles, and incomplete passes / interceptions. MSU's pass defense is ranked nearly identically to their passing offense (23rd to 22nd) with the lone exception coming from explosive plays. Michigan State excels at hitting them on offense, and is slightly below average at preventing them on defense.
Which gives me an idea.
THE HOOSIERS: (#62 S&P+: #17 Offense, #105 Defense)
THROW IT FOREVER. DON'T EVER STOP THROWING. WE ARE ONE WITH THE PASSING OFFENSE. AMEN.
Indiana is now halfway back from the tandem of injuries that, in retrospect, may have torpedoed the Hoosiers' latest attempt at a bowl game. Granted, there is no excuses for what happened against Rutgers, but if you got a do-over from the 4th quarter of the Ohio State game on through the end of Homecoming with a fully healthy Nate Sudfeld and Jordan Howard, does anyone think Indiana is still 4-3? I'm not saying they're 7-0, but you have to think at least one of those games breaks the Hoosiers' way.
But injuries are part of the game, and Indiana is (unfortunately) one of the more ill-suited teams to rise above them when forced to turn to their depth. I've reached the point with Jordan Howard's injury that I'll just assume he can't go until he is actually on the field again. The good news is that Nate Sudfeld returned against Rutgers and, aside from a fourth quarter in which not a single player in an Indiana uniform did anything correctly, he looked like vintage Suds: winging the ball to every level of the field and to every receiver at his disposal as the Hoosiers piled up 52 points in in a little less than 40 minutes of game time.
Against Michigan State, I'd advocate the same thing. Without Jordan Howard, Indiana's rushing efficiency has plummeted. Both Mike Majette and Devine Redding showed their gamebreaking ability against the Scarlet Knights, but have yet to show the play-to-pay consistency that Howard has. To illustrate: Redding now has two less carries than Howard on the season ... and about 300 less yards.
We might be at a juncture where it's time to stop worrying about balance and just throw it 100 times and hope for the best. I discussed Michigan State's below average ability to stop big plays through the air, maybe the Hoosiers should just exploit that and not worry about anything else? It's not a great idea, but Indiana going to East Lansing to play Michigan State isn't a great idea in general, so who cares?
The Hoosiers are the 9th best overall passing offense in the country, 22nd in efficiency, 33rd in explosion (a mark that has been steadily rising all season after a very non-explosive start for the team.) Along with being 9th in the nation in tempo, we might as well turn this into a track meet (like always) and see if the Spartans can keep up. However, Indiana has to be able to stop their running game to make this happen. We've covered Sparty's inefficiency in the run game and their continued insistence on running a lot, but if our defense (ranked 82nd against the run) can't keep them inefficient, they'll be the ones controlling the pace, and Sparty likes to move things awfully slowly (93rd).
- Jordan Howard? Two weeks ago, he traveled and suited up, but ultimately did not play. Last week, he suited up, got taped, but only watched warm-ups before eventually not playing again. Following this pattern, we're likely to see him travel, suit up, get taped, participate in warm-ups and then not play. All jokes aside, we know we can't trust the depth chart or the coaches to give us any clear indication of his status. Only once he's standing behind Nate Sudfeld on the field will we know for sure, maybe.
- How does the team respond? We know how we, as fans, responded to last week's Homecoming debacle, but how will the team come out following one of the more gut-wrenching defeats of their careers? Indiana rarely goes into East Lansing on anything short of house money, and with the Spartans flying high off an improbable win over their rivals in Ann Arbor, maybe the Hoosiers catch them napping?
- PREDICTION: We got so caught up last week in some opposing fan disagreement over a stat projection (S&P+ likes Sparty by 13, FYI) that I forgot to give my own prediction for the game. I try to not let one game ruin my outlook on the season, but, at the same time, I wasn't picking us to win this game any way. I think Michigan State prevails 41-30.