Indiana lost 35-21 to Michigan State on Saturday night, a tough game that dropped the Hooisers to 3-1 on the season. This was a frustrating loss in which MSU’s rush defense torched the Hoosiers all night, daring Indiana to throw when they couldn’t get Stevie Scott going. IU’s defense had a pretty good night overall, but couldn’t stop MSU in a few critical moments, including on a third-and-17 at the beginning of the first half, as well as a fake field goal early in the second half.
Overall, however, this could have been a closer game than the final score indicated. And in games like this, college football is won and lost on the margins. Michigan State edged out IU in these margins on Saturday, and this led them to victory.
Three plays in particular on Saturday showed how tiny the margin is between victory and defeat for a team like Indiana.
The pick-6 to put Sparty up 14-0
The Hoosiers, for the first time all game, were finally in rhythm on offense. Driving down into Spartan territory, IU just needed a few more yards to get into field goal range. But Peyton Ramsey threw a checkdown to Scott that went off his fingertips and right into the arms of Shakur Brown, who ran it back 69 yards (not nice!) for an easy touchdown. Right there in that one moment was a potential 10-14 point swing in the game.
Stuffed on 4th-and-1
A J-Shun Harris punt return early in the second quarter gave the Hoosiers terrific field position at the Sparty 43. Six plays and 25 yards later, IU faced a 4th-and-1 on the MSU 18. On the previous play, Scott had been stuffed for no gain. The Hoosiers decided to go for it here. Again, they ran Scott up the middle, and again, no gain and a loss on downs.
I don’t mind going for it here - after all, you have to be daring to beat a team like MSU - but the playcall was suspect. Why get in shotgun formation and then call for a run, especially when your offensive line has been struggling? Maybe you go for a play-action or line up in the I-formation and sneak it across with Ramsey? Or maybe just take the three points at this point in the game and hope for better luck on the next possession? Regardless, the 4th down stuff potentially cost the Hoosiers 3-7 points.
The fake field goal
Eight years ago, Mark Dantonio delivered his most memorable playcall in his MSU tenure - a fake field goal that allowed Sparty to beat Notre Dame in overtime. On Saturday, he called for a trick play again in Bloomington after a nine-play, five-minute drive. Instead of a short field goal, MSU kicker Matt Coughlin ran it in to take a 28-7 lead late in the third quarter. If MSU goes kick it there, it’s still likely a three-score game at 24-7, but if the Hoosiers get the stop there, that’s another seven-point swing.
Saturday’s loss proved that Indiana still has a lot of work to do as it heads into the rest of its conference schedule. But at the same time, these plays proved that the margin between a win and a loss in college football is very slim, and the potential swing on these three total plays was up to 28 points in IU’s favor. But the Spartans, like they’ve done so many times under Mark Dantonio, ended up being best equipped to take advantage of these moments, and came away with the victory on the road.