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5 Difference-makers for the Indiana Hoosiers

NCAA Football: Georgia Southern at Indiana Aaron Doster-USA TODAY Sports

The Michigan State Spartans look to improve to 4-0 in conference play, and 6-1 overall, this Saturday against the Indiana Hoosiers. The Hoosiers will be looking to earn their first Big Ten win of the year and fourth win on the season.

The Big Ten East foes will battle at 3:30 p.m. inside of Spartan Stadium. This will be the fifth home game for the Spartans already this season, and it will be homecoming for Michigan State.

Last year, Indiana beat Michigan State in overtime. It was the first time since 2006 that the Hoosiers were able to take down the Spartans. The Spartans have not forgotten that, while Indiana now has more confidence against Sparty.

So who are the Indiana players that Michigan State needs to pay attention to? Here are five difference-makers for the Hoosiers:

1. Peyton Ramsey, Quarterback

Ramsey, a redshirt freshman, has taken the starting role from Richard Lagow and expects to see most of the snaps versus the Spartans. However, after getting burned by Minnesota backup QB, Demry Croft, the Spartans are preparing to see either signal-caller. Like Croft, Ramsey is a bit of a dual threat himself. He’s thrown for 815 yards and seven touchdowns through the air, while rushing for another 185 yards and two touchdowns. I don’t think he is quite like Brian Lewerke, but he can certainly make plays with his feet when the play breaks down.

Ramsey rushed for more than 50 yards in two games, and he averages about 31 yards per game on the ground. He only averages 135.8 yards through the air on a per game basis, but he exploded for 321 yards (and 54 rushing yards) just two weeks ago against Charleston Southern (yes, I know it’s Charleston Southern). But I think Croft exposed a few weaknesses on the vaunted MSU defense, and Indiana may try to follow that game plan.

2. Morgan Ellison, Running Back

Ellison is averaging 5.1 yards per carry and has scored three touchdowns on the ground. Now, his numbers are inflated a bit because of the Georgia Southern game. He went off for 186 yards and two touchdowns. Other than that game, he hasn’t topped 68 yards. But the 68 yards came last week against one of the nation’s top run defenses in Michigan and he only had 14 carries (4.9 ypc average). I think Ellison is a player to watch.

He’s not a huge threat catching passes out of the backfield, as he has just three catches for 16 yards, but Ellison is just a true freshman with a lot of potential. He came from Pickerington Central High School in Ohio, which is the same school where Trenton Gillison and Xavier Henderson — Michigan State’s two highest rated 2018 recruits — hail from. MSU is not an easy team to run on, currently ranking eighth nationally, but Indiana will need to run the ball effectively to help its young quarterback.

3. Simmie Cobbs Jr., Wide Receiver

Cobbs Jr. has had a nice bounce-back year after suffering a season-ending ankle injury in 2016. He leads Indiana in receptions (37), receiving yards (409) and yards per game (68.2). He is also tied for the team lead with three touchdowns. As a Sophomore in 2015, Cobbs snagged 60 balls and had 1,035 yards receiving (third in Big Ten). He is Indiana’s go-to receiver and provides a huge target for Ramsey at 6-feet-four-inches tall.

Cobbs ranks second in the Big Ten in receptions per game, hauling in an average of 6.2 catches per contest. He’s fourth in the conference in yards per game as well. Michigan State ranks third in the conference in passing yards allowed per game, while Indiana is fifth in passing yards per game. Cobbs is a big play waiting to happen, and Josiah Scott, Justin Layne or anybody guarding Cobbs must be able to stick with him and lock him down. We don’t need another Tyler Johnson-like explosion this week.

4. Tegray Scales, Linebacker

Scales, a senior, makes plays all over the field. He is an underrated defender in the Big Ten. Scales has 48 total tackles, 6.5 tackles for loss and 3.5 sacks on the year. He is the leader of this unit and was a second team All-Big Ten selection in 2016 with 126 tackles. This year, he ranks fourth in the conference in total tackles, seventh in sacks and 10th in tackles for loss. He is a presence that the Michigan State offense needs to be aware of at all times.

Scales is a load at 230 pounds and can lay the hammer down. He’s yet to force any turnovers so far this year, but Indiana’s defense as a whole has really struggled with that. The team has only recovered three fumbles (four forced) and has one interception all season. That will not cut it. Scales and the Indiana defense are a seemingly less-talented team than Michigan State, so the Hoosiers will need to find a way to take the ball away from MSU and maximize their opportunities in order to get a win.

5. Chris Covington, Linebacker

Covington is the other senior linebacker on this unit. He was just a two-star recruit as an athlete out of Chicago back in 2014, but the Hoosiers found a hidden gem with him. Covington actually started as a quarterback believe it or not. But at 6-feet-two-inches tall and 230 pounds, he made the switch to linebacker in 2015 as a sophomore. He’s played in 32 games total, with 27 of which coming at the linebacker spot.

Covington is second on the team in tackles with 39. He also has five tackles for loss, three passes defended and a half-sack. Again, Covington and Scales are going to have to find a way for this unit to make bigger plays and get takeaways. As a whole, Indiana ranks seventh in total defense, 11th against the run, fourth against the pass and 11th in scoring defense in the Big Ten. This defense is definitely not an elite unit, but Scales and Covington make things happen.

What, if anything at all, worries you about this Indiana Hoosiers team? Will we be in for another close game, an easy Spartans win or an upset loss? Let us know in the comments.