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Game Preview: Indiana Hoosiers vs. Michigan State Spartans

NCAA Football: Michigan at Indiana Marc Lebryk-USA TODAY Sports

It’s that time of the week — here is your game preview for the Michigan State Spartans (1-2) and the Indiana Hoosiers (3-0). The Old Brass Spittoon is on the line.

This looks like a tough matchup on paper for the Spartans, as the No. 10-ranked Hoosiers come to East Lansing riding a three-game winning streak, with zero losses on the season. Michigan State, on the other hand, comes in off the heels of a blowout loss to Iowa, but has won three games in a row against Indiana, and has dominated the series overall.

The problem with the Spartans so far this season has been inconsistency. The way this game will shape up will depend on which MSU team shows up. For Indiana, can the Hoosiers live up the pressure of being a top-10 team? We shall soon find out.

Let’s take a closer look:

Tale of the Tape

Michigan State:
2020 Record — 1-2 (1-2 in Big Ten)

Offense (per game averages) — 368.0 total yards, 289.7 passing yards, 78.3 rushing yards

Defense (per game averages) — 377.6 total yards allowed, 216.3 passing yards allowed, 161.3 rushing yards allowed

Cumulative Points Scored: 61 (20.33 ppg)

Cumulative Points Allowed: 111 (37 ppg)

Current SP+ Ranking: 62nd

2020 Record — 3-0 (3-0 in Big Ten)

Offense (per game averages) — 339.3 total yards, 250.0 passing yards, 89.3 rushing yards

Defense (per game averages) — 364.0 yards allowed, 236.0 passing yards allowed, 128 rushing yards allowed

Cumulative Points Scored: 111 (37 ppg)

Cumulative Points Allowed: 77 (25.67 ppg)

Current SP+ Ranking: 29th

Series History/All-Time Records

All-time head-to-head record: Michigan State 48-16-2
Current streak: Michigan State has won three games in a row
Last Michigan State Win: Sept. 28, 2019 (40-31)
Last Indiana Win: Oct. 1, 2016 (24-21)
Michigan State all-time record: 709-467-44 (.599)
Indiana all-time record: 494-684-44 (.422)

Previous Game Results

Iowa 49, Michigan State 7

This was just pure domination by Iowa. Coming off of a huge upset win over Michigan and riding that momentum into Iowa City, it was pretty disheartening to watch the Hawkeyes just do whatever they wanted to the Spartans — in all three facets of the game, including special teams. In what was a homecoming for Rocky Lombardi, he (and the entire offense) really struggled, as Lombardi completed 17 passes on 37 attempts (just under 46 percent) for 227 yards, for zero touchdown passes and three interceptions, and the coaching staff never thought about pulling him out in a game that was quickly out of reach. The run game never got going, rushing for a mere 59 yards. The punt coverage team was just atrocious. The defense gave up touchdown drives to Iowa on three of the first four drives of the game. This game was a combination of Iowa being a better team, Iowa wanting it more and Michigan State shooting itself in the foot.

So far, we’ve seen two bad MSU teams show up (Weeks One and Three) and one pretty good MSU team show up (Week Two). Which one will show up this weekend?

Indiana 38, Michigan 21

Indiana moved to 3-0 with its first victory over Michigan since 1987 (which was before I was born, laugh out loud at Michigan). Quarterback Michael Penix Jr. torched the Michigan defense for 342 yards, three touchdowns and zero interceptions. Running back Stevie Scott III rushed for 97 yards and two additional scores and wide receiver Ty Fryfogle torched the Wolverine defensive backs, Ricky White style, with seven catches for 142 yards a touchdown (not quite on White’s level, but still very good). The Indiana defense allowed just 13 rushing yards, but did give up 344 passing yards. But the Hoosiers are now not only 3-0 in the conference or overall, but in the East Division as well, and are currently sitting atop the division with Ohio State.

Indiana now looks to “dominate” Michigan State:

Key Matchups

Michael Penix Jr. versus Michigan State secondary: Containing Penix through the air is going to make a big difference between a win and a loss for the Spartans. He’s going to throw it a lot — he’s not much of a threat to run with 12 carries for six yards, but he does have two rushing touchdowns. Penix will put up numbers, but the key for the Michigan State defense is limiting the chunk plays in Indiana’s passing game. The Hoosiers are not a great running team (more on that below), so if the MSU defense can do its best to take away impact plays in the passing game, the Spartans will be set up for success. Penix averages 250 yards passing per game, while the Spartans have been stout against the pass, allowing just 216 yards per game in that regard.

Offensive lines vs. defensive lines: I had “battle of the trenches,” in this section last week and Iowa soundly defeated Michigan State in this aspect — the Hawkeyes gashed the Spartans for chunk gains in the ground attack all game long. Michigan State has to get its running game going to have a chance in this game. Through three games, Michigan State is averaging a putrid 78.3 rushing yards per game — that ranks 120th out of a 123 qualifying teams in the NCAA (granted, team stats are a mess to track right now given some teams have played many more games than others). The Spartans have struggled to run the ball for three seasons in a row now. On the other side, though, Indiana does not fare much better, averaging just 89.3 rushing yards per contest, which ranks 117th in the nation. Don’t be surprised if the team that has more rushing yards wins this game.

The turnover battle: This isn’t a matchup per se, but is something that will undoubtedly affect the game. Head coach Mel Tucker has preached turnover margin all summer long, and we’ve seen what happens when Michigan State is sloppy with the ball — seven giveaways against Rutgers (loss) and three giveaways against Iowa (loss). The Michigan State defense has also struggled to take the ball away. MSU forced three turnovers against Rutgers, but has not had a takeaway in either of the past two games. Meanwhile, as it was pointed out in our 3-2-1 preview article, Indiana has not given the ball away in either of its past two games. The Hoosiers rank third nationally in turnover margin (plus-six), while the Spartans rank 121st out of 123 teams (minus-seven). At his press conference this week, Tucker spoke about the importance of generating turnovers on defense. We’ll see if it comes to fruition.

Game Info

Time: Noon (Eastern)
TV Channel: ABC
Location: Spartan Stadium, East Lansing, Michigan
Weather expectations: Partly sunny, with a high around 43 degrees for kickoff and reaching up to 46 degrees throughout the game, winds blowing south/southeast at 11-12 miles per hour
Line: Indiana -7


Michigan State looks back to get back to the fundamentals this week, and Tucker looks to pull some inspiration from the late George Perles, who was Michigan State’s head football coach from 1983-1994. The Spartans will wear the classic “Block S” logo on the right side of their helmets this weekend. Whether or not this gives the players an extra sense of motivation and energy this week remains to be seen, but the team has to come out of the gates much quicker than it did against Iowa.

Let’s be clear: this is going to be a tough test for the Spartans. For the Hoosiers, Michael Penix Jr, is obviously the key to Indiana’s success, but even though the Indiana run game has struggled so far this season, running back Stevie Scott III is a player to watch — he is a veteran and a big tailback at 6-foot-2, 231 pounds. The Hoosiers also have two impact receivers in Whop Philyor and Ty Fryfogle.

Defensively, Indiana is sound against both the run (ranking 35th nationally) and the pass (63rd nationally). Meanwhile, Michigan State is even stronger against the pass, ranking 41st nationally. After getting gashed by Iowa, the Spartans currently ranked 61st in the NCAA against the run.

Indiana has also been deadly in the red zone this season, getting points on all 16 of the Hoosiers’ trips there.

Overall in this series, Michigan State has pretty much owned the Old Brass Spittoon, winning more than 73 percent of total games, and earning victories in 10 of the last 11 meetings. But the 2020 version of Indiana seems different, and at least on paper, appears to be a more talented group than the 2020 Spartans.

I do believe we’ll see a much more competitive outing from MSU, after the team’s embarrassing performance last week, but I would expect Indiana to walk out of East Lansing with a close win.

For additional analysis on Indiana, check out our “Get to Know the Opponent” piece.

What are your thoughts?


Who wins the Old Brass Spittoon?

This poll is closed

  • 35%
    Michigan State
    (20 votes)
  • 64%
    (36 votes)
56 votes total Vote Now