I don’t think about Ralph Green III much anymore, but he does come to mind each year during Michigan State week.
Because no one — and I mean absolutely no one — loves the Old Brass Spittoon more than Big Ralph loves it.
Indiana claimed control of the
world’s most disgusting rivalry trophy only once during RG III’s time in Bloomington, so the former IU defensive tackle made sure to savor every second that the coveted saliva-stained spitter sat in IU’s possession during his senior year in 2016.
There is an image from the celebration that followed IU’s win over Sparty four years ago that is burned inside my brain, a photo I don’t think I’ll ever forget. Longtime Indiana photographer AJ Mast captured a snapshot of Green painting the inside of the spittoon with his spit — just absolutely launchin’ loogies inside of that thing — as he levitated above his howling teammates. It was a beautiful moment.
After the game, as is tradition, seemingly everyone in the Indiana University orbit followed Green’s lead. Even President Michael McRobbie made a stop inside the Hoosiers’ Memorial Stadium locker room to take a turn.
But the spittoon itself didn’t stray far from Green’s reach. He simply would not let it.
“Ralph had his hands on it for awhile,” former IU quarterback Richard Lagow said a couple days later. “I couldn’t even really get it from him. He handed it over for me to spit in, then he pulled it right back.”
I don’t know where Ralph Green III is these days; I don’t know what he’s doing. But I am thinking about him, his love for that silly trophy, and just how much he surely wishes to see it returned to Hoosier hands this weekend.
Here are three thoughts about the matchup:
Penix’s return to East Lansing
Spartan Stadium was the site of Michael Penix’s breakout party last fall, when he threw for 286 yards and three scores on 33-of-42 passing in his first career road start. As part of that performance, Penix completed 20 consecutive passes, the second-longest streak in conference history. It was one heckuva effort, an eye-opening showcase for the talent the Hoosiers have at football’s most important position. Can he do it again? Penix was outstanding last week against Michigan, demonstrating total command of IU’s offense. Last season’s trip to East Lansing was a glimpse at Penix’s upside. A year later, he’s showing the ability to tap into it more fully.
Who will run it better?
Three games into any season, there will always be things that can be improved. For Indiana, a more consistent ground game might be at the top of the list of needed improvements. To be fair, it feels like we’re seeing incremental improvement week after week — the Penn State game was pretty poor, but the Rutgers effort was a bit better. Last week against Michigan, the Hoosiers’ rushing approach had some nice moments late in the game to widen the gap with the Wolverines. The key now is getting that run game to appear earlier, and in more consistent doses. IU isn’t the only team struggling to find that kind of traction. Saturday is a matchup between two of the Big Ten’s lesser rushing attacks, with Michigan State averaging a Big Ten-worst 78.3 yards per game.
Is this a trap game?
It still feels weird to use that phrase with Indiana football, but it might be applicable here. Coming off a long-awaited victory over Michigan and with a top-of-the-division showdown on deck at Ohio State next week, the classic Trap Game ingredients are on the table. Then again, IU’s program has demonstrated maturity already this season in the way it moved on from the Penn State victory and took care of Rutgers. Still, given the real-time trajectories of both IU and Michigan State at this point, it’s a consideration.
Game Info / How to Watch
Who? No. 10 Indiana Hoosiers (3-0, #29 SP+) at Michigan State Spartans (1-2, #67 SP+)
Where? Spartan Stadium, East Lansing, Mich.
When? Saturday, Nov. 14, noon ET
Channel? ABC | Dave Pasch (p-b-p), Greg McElroy (analyst) & Holly Rowe (sideline)
Radio? IU Radio Network; Sirius 106, XM 196, Internet 958: Don Fischer, Buck Suhr & Joe Smith
Vegas? Indiana -7
SP+ Projection? Indiana by 7 (28-21), 67 percent chance of Hoosier victory