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Michigan State Football Preview: Game Four — Indiana

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The Spartans look to bounce back from their most humbling (non-Bama) loss in several years as they battle the Hoosiers for the Old Brass Spitoon

NCAA Football: Indiana at Florida International Jasen Vinlove-USA TODAY Sports

Do we really have to talk about last week? Do we HAVE to talk about my sobering “irresponsible” pick? We do? You sure? UGHHHH FINE. Here goes nothing...

How We’re Feeling.gif

Seven short days ago we were all so innocent. Just a fanbase coated in smiles, enjoying what seemed to be a banner victory over the Irish in South Bend. The offensive line was gelling, Tyler O’Connor looked capable and the secondary appeared to be a unit potentially on the rise.

Wisconsin on the other hand was fresh off a poor performance against Georgia State with a banged up crop of running backs and a freshman quarterback making his first start.

Ah, those were better days.

When kickoff came, however, the MSU players did a spot on imitation of their head coach....

...and disappeared.

Offensively, they weren’t able to establish the run and quarterback Tyler O’Connor played like the worst possible version of himself making poor decisions and worse throws. On the other side of the ball, the secondary that looked like it had turned a corner was picked apart through the air by Alex Hornibrook, most notably on long third and fourth downs. The final score was 30-6 and at times it didn’t even feel that close.

(On top of all that Notre Dame — THE Catholic school — lost to Duke — a team literally named the Blue DEVILS — at home, in FOOTBALL. The irony is rich, my friends.)

By the end of this one, fans and players alike were ready to flip some tables. I may or may not have considered spiking my phone. It’s all a blur.

But there is plenty of time to bounce back. At least nine games remain on the schedule, the next of which comes against the Indiana Hoosiers in the BATTLE FOR THE OLD BRASS SPITTOON

Look at this thing...

Michigan State and Indiana have been fighting over this glorified ashtray for over half a century but I’ll be DAMNED if those (...tries to think of Indiana insults...) WINDMILL HAVIN’ SONS A GUNS are gonna take it back now!

HOW WE GON’ BEAT ‘EM COACH?!

Indiana Offense vs Michigan State Defense

Indiana v Florida International Photo by Rob Foldy/Getty Images

Notable Hoosiers

  • Leading Passer: QB Richard Lagow — 63-for-101 (62.4%) 1,002 yards, 7 TD/5 INT
  • Leading Rusher: RB Devine Redding — 64 carries, 313 yards, 0 TD
  • Leading Receiver: WR Nick Westbrook — 15 catches, 332 yards, 4 TD

Notable Spartans

  • Leading Tackler: DB Demetrious Cox — 23 tackles
  • Leading Sack Artist: DT Raequan Williams — 2 sacks, 2 TFL
  • Leading Ball Hawk: LB Andrew Dowell/CB Darien Hicks/LB Jon Reschke — 1 INT (tie)

Keeping the IU offense on the sideline would be a good place to start.

The Hoosiers run a typical Kevin Wilson offense. Up-tempo run-first with lots of screens and quick passes mixed in. The group is led by junior college transfer Richard Lagow, who has already thrown for over 1,000 yards but struggled mightily against Wake Forest last week when he threw five interceptions.

He is down Simmie Cobbs, the teams top pass catcher from a year ago, but is still flanked by three talented receivers in Nick Westbrook, Ricky Jones and Mitchell Paige. Jones dropped 208 yards on the Demon Deacons last week but Westbrook is the most physical of the bunch. At 6’3” 215, the sophomore will provide a physical challenge for the Spartan secondary down the field.

Speaking of that secondary, they’ve caught a lot of flack after getting picked apart on late downs last week, but that isn’t painting the entire picture. Between the lack of any substantial pass rush — a separate but equally large issue — and Hornibrook simply dropping dimes, they were between a rock and a hard place. That doesn’t excuse the mental errors and poor coverage technique by upperclassmen like Demetrious Cox, however.

The secondary and linebackers will have to tackle well in space this week because, as we’ve seen time and time again, the weakness of MSU’s defensive scheme is in the flats, exactly where the Hoosiers like to throw the ball.

Not helping matters will be the absence of Jon Reschke and Riley Bullough. If there was one position group where the Spartans could afford injuries it was linebacker, but losing those two in particular stings, especially considering IU running back Devine Redding — a 1,000 yard rusher from a year ago — packs a real punch.

Shane Jones will likely take over in the middle. He’s strong against the run but isn’t a three-down backer, those duties will likely shift to Byron Bullough and if namesake means anything there are worse scenarios. On the outside Andrew Dowell and Chris Frey can both be impact players but consistency will be key. This also might be the game where we see Ed Davis get significant burn, assuming he’s ready to turn it loose.

That brings us to the defensive line where Malik McDowell — who is being double and triple-teamed at times — simply cannot do it all on his own. Raequan Williams has been a bright spot but outside of The Chef there hasn’t been a whole lot to speak of in terms of pass rushing threats. After seeing both Josh King and Auston Robertson have their redshirts burnt a week ago, it appears Dantonio agrees that the current group isn’t cutting it.

The good news is A) IU is not Wisconsin and B) they’re a bit injured especially on the right side where starters Dan Feeney (concussion) and Dimitric Camiel (back) are both TBD after missing last weeks game. Expect to see a good amount of McDowell on that side if one or both should miss this contest.

The Hoosiers run the ball pretty well but injuries should keep them from posing the same challenge as Wisconsin did up front, even against a depleted Spartan linebacking corps. If there is one real silver lining to the loss last week, it’s that the MSU run defense was very good. That will need to continue if they want to come out of Bloomington with a win.

Michigan State Offense vs Indiana Defense

Wisconsin v Michigan State Photo by Bobby Ellis/Getty Images

Notable Spartans

  • Leading Passer: QB Tyler O’Connor — 50-for-82 (61.0%), 5 TD/5 INT
  • Leading Rusher: RB LJ Scott — 56 carries, 264 yards, 2 TD
  • Leading Receiver: WR Monty Madaris — 12 catches, 174 yards, 0 TD

Notable Hoosiers

  • Leading Tackler: HUSKY Marcelino Ball/LB Marcus Oliver/LB Tegray Scales — 22 tackles (tie)
  • Leading Sack Artist: LB Tegray Scales — 2 sacks, 4.5 TFL
  • Leading Ball Hawk: DB Ben Bach/DB Marcelino Ball/DB Rashad Fant/LB Tegray Scales — 1 INT (tie)

This might be depressing so let’s start with a funny tweet...

Bongs! The Moon! HUMOR. It feels good to laugh again. Alas, we must come down off our momentary collective high and get to football.

A few things became apparent last week. First, this is not a team that could can afford to make many mistakes. They do not have the explosive offensive or airtight defense they can rely on to get them out of tight spots.

Entering the season, the hope was that Tyler O’Connor could manage the game (read: not turn the ball over) well enough that MSU would mostly survive without having either.

So far, not so good.

O’Connor doesn’t appear to possess the arm strength needed to push the ball vertically down the field, which (of course) is exactly what he was asked to do for far too much of last week’s game.

Early it seemed to be part game plan, part ineffectiveness on the ground, but after the half it became necessity. The score reached a point where Dave Warner simply had no choice but to air it out and we all saw what happens when that is the case.

O’Connor made mistakes the offense simply cannot make if his team wants to be taken seriously — and if he wants to keep his job.

However, the fifth-year senior still controls not only his own destiny but that of the entire offense. If he starts making consistently good decisions with the ball the chatter of benching him will subside, even if the offensive isn’t necessarily “explosive”. But if he continues to commit turnovers at a higher rate than literally any other Dantonio-era quarterback — yes, even Andrew Maxwell — he will force his way onto the bench.

The quickest way to help the quarterback is to run the ball. A novel concept, I know.

MSU should have an easier time in that regard against the 4-2-5 front Indiana plays. Brian Allen and company will be squaring off against some fantastic #AllCFBNameTeam candidates along the defensive line including Greg Gooch and Ja’merez Bowen (a Cincinnati transfer). It would behoove them to keep the Indiana offense on the sideline as much as possible, so a heavy dose of the run game would not surprise.

The best player on the defense is probably linebacker Tegray Scales who, as you can see from the notables above, has been making plays all over the field this year. Marcelino Ball, who plays HUSKY — IU’s answer to the BANDIT — moves all over the place and will be asked to do a lot.

In the secondary, Rashard Fant, the teams top corner, was second nationally with 22 pass breakups a year ago. Hopefully MSU won’t have to test him deep too often.

I realize a dire picture has been painted here but, as we saw against Notre Dame, when the MSU offense is running the ball they can be very effective. This week we’ll find out whether or not they can put a terrible outing behind them and get back to that style of play.

Special Teams

NCAA Football: Michigan State at Rutgers Jim O'Connor-USA TODAY Sports

Hey, at least someone came to play. Michael Geiger looked the best he has in a very long time going 2-for-2 on field goals, neither of them coming cheap at 40 and 48 yards. With the offense looking sluggish a (unlikely) renaissance would be huge. On the other side, IU kicker Griffin Oakes is 4-of-6 with a long of 49, so he can make a long one if called upon.

Jake Hartbarger looked impressive again, you know, aside from that whole “dropped punt inside the 5-yard-line” thing. Say something mean about him I DARE YOU. I have a very special set of skills (mostly eating pizza), I will find you (eventually, maybe, but I get tired easily) and I will scold you.

Neither team possesses any game breaking returners although Devonte Williams and Cole Gest each average over 22 yards per kick return. For MSU, just field the punts cleanly and take touchbacks, please. Mark Snyder will clap and we’ll all shake our heads. It’s fine. This is fine.

And finally in this weeks “Huge Special Teams Concern Corner” we spotlight kickoff specialist Kevin Cronin, who has now sent a kickoffs out of bounds in each of the three games so far.

Kevin, you have one job. Please, PLEASE, do it. Your team needs you.

Stop me if I’ve already said this but this team cannot make completely avoidable mistakes like these. Giving your opponent field position advantages after a score is one of the surest ways to give them those points right back. That’s bad, m’kay.

Bottom Line and Prediction

NCAA Football: Wisconsin at Michigan State Mike Carter-USA TODAY Sports

Last week changed things...again.

All of the questions the win over Notre Dame seemingly closed the book on had freshly written chapters after watching Wisconsin dismantle the Spartans on their home turf.

No longer is this a surefire 9-10 win team. No longer will Spartan fans feel comfortable heading into games against what should be inferior opponents. No longer is O’Connor’s job entirely safe.

But let’s find the silver lining. MSU may have simply lost to a great team.

If they can win in Ann Arbor (pleasepleaseplease) the Badgers will be 5-0 with a “neutral site” win against LSU and road victories over two top 10 teams from the Mitten State. If that isn’t one of the best resumes in the country then I don’t know what is.

It’s also possible that the Spartans channel the frustration of last weeks loss and run away from IU Saturday night, literally. The MSU offensive line theoretically should be able to open up holes for Scott and Holmes and help O’Connor gain some confidence back with easier throws. Less likely, perhaps, but possible.

I said on The Only Podcast that this should still be a 9-3 team. In order for that to happen MSU must win games against the Indiana’s of the world. They are more talented, battle-tested and should be better disciplined.

I know we like to have a lot of fun with these previews but on a serious note, I would be remiss if I did not mention the tragic death of former Spartan Mylan Hicks. I speak for everyone here at The Only Colors when I say that our thoughts and prayers are with everyone affected by his passing.

Hicks was a friend and mentor to many players on this team and they will commemorate him by wearing black as part of their uniform and a #6 helmet sticker. This week goes beyond football, it’s about winning one for a fallen brother.

Indiana keeps it close the whole way but turnovers doom them and a late...I can’t believe I’m writing this...Michael Geiger field goal provides the margin. The Spartans get an emotional win on the road for #6.

MSU 31 - IU 28