A win's a win, even if it didn't come as easy as expected. MSU faced deficits of 17-0 in the first quarter and 27-14 at halftime, but rallied for a 31-27 win at Indiana.
MSU dominated the second half, outgaining the Hoosiers 244-37 in yards, but the hole was nearly too deep to climb out of. Some players stepped up, some got burned and some left the game due to injury. Many believe a Legends division title to just be a pipe dream now, but in a conference that doesn't have a team ranked in the coaches poll, any win is a big win.
First, looking back at my keys to the game.
Run the ball: Le'Veon Bell finished with 121 yards on 37 carries for 3.3 yards per carry. He was stuffed for much of the day, but MSU stuck with him, as he had 24 carries for 69 yards in the second half.
Turnovers: None for either team. Andrew Maxwell has gone more than 200 passes without an interception, dating back to the opening half of the season. Isaiah Lewis dropped what likely would have been an easy pick-six and given MSU the lead in the fourth quarter.
Consistent pass rush: It wasn't consistent, but it was there a bit in the second half. MSU had one sack from Marcus Rush, and neither team was credited witha QB hurry, which is a little odd. Indiana did a great job combating pressure with a crazy amount of screen passes, which rendered the rush useless many times.
Big plays: The Hoosiers had five plays of more than 17 yards on their first three scoring drives getting out to that 17-0 lead. Add in six plays of 10+ yards on their two scoring drives in the second quarter, plus the onside kick recovery. Unfortunately for them, only 37 total yards in the second half.
Stop the run: Mission accomplished somewhat. They mostly held Bell in check, but couldn't at the end when trying to get the ball back.
Don't beat yourself: Only four penalties for 36 yards from the most-penalized team in the conference.
Now, thoughts on MSU's play.
Overall, you'd like a game against the worst defense in the Big Ten to be better, but it was a tale of two halves. Fourteen points and 166 yards in the first; 17 points and 244 yards in the second half.
Maxwell had some struggles, but it might have been his best overall game. He finished 24-for-40 for 290 yards and two touchdowns, with career-highs in completions and yards. He lost Dion Sims to an ankle injury, but stuck with his receivers and found a reliable target in Aaron Burbridge (eight catches, 134 yards). He was sacked twice and still under a lot of pressure, but he has developed terrific pocket presence.
Sure, he's not running as much as some expected, but he really doesn't have much room to get outside, as the tackles are getting beat too often. Over the last two games, he has stuck in the pocket and made some big-time throws. Of course he's not perfect, but given what he's had to work with, he's made major strides.
As for that line, still patching things together. Both Jack Allen and Ethan Ruhland saw time at center, and it doesn't appear Blake Treadwell is 100 percent. It is what it is. I don't think we can expect great play from this group anymore.
The passing game has taken a step forward with the last two games. Hopefully Sims isn't out for very long. There's finally some confidence in the air, especially after the comeback. MSU had only trailed by more than one score against Notre Dame, so don't underestimate what that comeback does for belief. This isn't going to be a good offense. If MSU can get to and stick in the middle of the conference in offense (currently eighth in yards, 11th in points) with a few more touchdowns than field goals, then things should be OK.
Put the blame and the credit where it's due. Indiana put up 280 yards and 27 points and shredded MSU's defense in the first half with every screen pass imaginable. But they made the adjustments, allowing just 37 yards in a shutout second half.
Kevin Wilson had a perfect gameplan for the Hoosiers. The best way to attack MSU's aggressive defense is to use that aggressiveness against them, and that's why you saw so many screen passes. That's the reason Michigan fans were pissed at Al Borges for not throwing bubble screens in East Lansing last year. You can be sure to see more of that as the season goes along, but the second half should make you feel better, as they finally snuffed them out and played smarter.
You hate to see a kid's chances of providing for his family go down, but Johnny Adams certainly isn't a first-round pick anymore. The pass-rush struggles have brought out Adams' deficiencies in one-on-one pass coverage. It's true that MSU puts a lot of pressure on (and trust in) its cornerbacks, but Adams and Darqueze Dennard have both been picked on plenty of times this year. At the same time, Marcus Rush has been better than William Gholston this season.
That said, MSU is still No. 8 in the nation and No. 1 in the Big Ten in total defense (40 yards ahead of No. 2 for the latter). The biggest problem has been the start. MSU has given up a touchdown within the first five minutes of three of the last four games. MSU is being outscored by 14 points in the first quarter this year, but outscoring opponents in the other three. It was a similar case last year, with the first quarter providing the most struggles. The Spartans just don't come to play early, and as a result they've trailed for more than 180 of the last 240 game minutes.
Overall, the defense has been good, not great, but the mistakes have been killer ones. Indiana only recorded about 100 yards after the first three scoring drives, but the early mistakes were almost too much to overcome.
For the first time this year, Dan Conroy didn't miss a field goal, so woo for that. He made his only attempt. Mike Sadler is turning in an All-Big Ten year. He averaged 45.9 yards on seven punts, including three inside the 20 and a 59-yarder.
Nick Hill fumbled another punt late in the game, which would have given Indiana prime field position to try and take the lead. Is Hill done for good back there? We will see.
I felt good going forward after this game, and I don't know why. I didn't feel good about the team after the last three games, but I did after a late comeback win over Indiana. I don't blame most of you for not feeling confident, though. I go more in-depth with this in my Monday Freep column.
Moving forward, MSU is still in a good position. Nebraska allowed 63 points in a loss to Ohio State, so MSU's loss last week was a wash there. U-M obviously goes to Columbus to finish the season. MSU is listed as a two-score favorite over Iowa early, and I'm not sure why. I wouldn't be surprised by an MSU blowout, but I wouldn't be surprised by a loss, either. That's just the way things have gone.
Who is the Legends favorite?I don't know. Nebraska can't stop a nosebleed, we know about MSU, Northwestern just lost to Penn State and Michigan turned in its first good performance of the season. There are going to be a lot of shockers as conference play unfolds.
Clearly, things need to be taken one game at a time and go from there. Just win and advance.