Roughly 99 percent of Michigan State’s game against Indiana was downright offensive to most football sensibilities. Which, somehow, seems fitting given the game’s trophy.
However, for as ugly as the game was, Michigan State’s defense took charge and the offense did just enough late to earn the 17-9 win. With the win, the Spartans became bowl eligible and are almost certainly going to return to the college football postseason.
The game remained scoreless until late in the first quarter when IU took over deep in Michigan State territory following a Madre London fumble. The MSU defense was able to keep Indiana out of the end zone and held to just a field goal.
A Michigan State 68-yard drive, that also stalled in the red zone, tied the game 3-3, as each team limped into halftime with only one score each.
Things started going sideways for MSU late in the third quarter and early into the fourth as Indiana put together two drives over 60 yards, both resulting in field goals. In a game where points came at a premium, 9-3 seemed almost insurmountable.
But once again, the defense set the offense up with a chance to win the game. This time, Brian Lewerke, who had struggled all game, looked to his freshman receivers in the game’s biggest moments.
On third and 19, Lewerke hit Cody White for a 16-yard hookup. That set up a four-yard pass to Hunter Rison, where the young receiver had to reach out to gain the first down. After a 16-yard Felton Davis run, Lewerke found a wide open Davis in the end zone and MSU took a 10-9 lead.
The MSU defense again forced an IU punt, giving the offense a chance to end the game with the ball. In another big third down situation, Lewerke found Rison over the middle for a first down. A 34-yard pass to White put MSU deep in IU territory.
The most controversial play of the game came on what would normally be a great play for the Spartans. With 1:49 left in the game, and Indiana still holding on to its final timeout, LJ Scott ran for an 18-yard touchdown. Scott, who was benched for the first drive of the game following an incident earlier in the week where he was arrested for driving without a license, could have fallen just short of the goal line after gaining the first down. This could have allowed MSU to run out the clock.
Scott’s touchdown gave IU a chance to tie the game with a touchdown and two-point conversion. The following drive, however, never crossed the IU 40, as the Spartans defense forced a turnover-on-downs.
The win doesn’t guarantee a bowl for MSU, but something enormous would have to happen to keep the Spartans out of a postseason game. It would be a return to a bowl for Dantonio, who missed a bowl game for the first time in his time as the Michigan State head coach last year.
Lewerke finished the game with a touchdown and 185 yards through the air, most of which came late in the game. The quarterback was held to -5 rushing yards. Scott led the team on the ground with 85 yards and a touchdown. White was the Spartans’ top receiver, going for 99 yards on six catches.
Michigan State goes back on the road next week to face Northwestern.