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Game Preview: Michigan State Spartans versus Indiana Hoosiers

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NCAA Football: Indiana at Michigan State Tim Fuller-USA TODAY Sports

The Old Brass Spittoon is up for grabs this weekend, as the undefeated and No. 10-ranked Michigan State Spartans (6-0) head to Bloomington to take on the Indiana Hoosiers (2-3). The game is set to kick off at 12:03 p.m. Eastern Time and will be broadcast on FS1.

After a promising campaign in 2020, Indiana has not gotten off to the start its wanted to in 2021 with just a 2-3 record, however the Hoosiers have faced a tough schedule with multiple top-10 opponents. Indiana is looking to turn things around during its homecoming game against Michigan State, and coming off of a bye week, should be well-rested and focused. However, the task at hand is difficult for the Hoosiers with the No. 10 team in the country coming to town, and the Spartans certainly want to get 7-0 heading into next week’s bye.

Making things even more difficult for Indiana is the fact that starting quarterback Michael Penix Jr. is likely to miss the game, and if he does, a relatively inexperienced Jack Tuttle takes over the offense against Michigan State’s ferocious pass rush. On paper, Michigan State should win this going away, and while I do think MSU ultimately gets the victory, I also see this as a more challenging game for the Spartans than some may believe.

Tale of the Tape

Michigan State:
2021 Record — 6-0 (3-0 in Big Ten)

2021 Offense (per game averages) — 486.8 total yards, 269.67 passing yards, 217.2 rushing yards

2021 Defense (per game averages) — 420.5 total yards allowed, 301.67 passing yards allowed, 118.8 rushing yards allowed

2021 Cumulative Points Scored: 220 (36.67 ppg)

2021 Cumulative Points Allowed: 116 (19.33 ppg)

Current SP+ Ranking: 15th

Indiana:
2021 Record — 2-3 (0-2 in Big Ten)

2021 Offense (per game averages) — 343.6 total yards, 221.4 passing yards, 122.2 rushing yards

2021 Defense (per game averages) — 349.8 yards allowed, 223 passing yards allowed, 126.8 rushing yards allowed

2021 Cumulative Points Scored: 119 (23.8 ppg)

2021 Cumulative Points Allowed: 141 (28.2 ppg)

Current SP+ Ranking: 59th


Series History/All-Time Records

All-time head-to-head record: Michigan State leads 48-17-2
Current streak: Indiana with a one-game winning streak
Last Michigan State Win: Sept. 28, 2019
Last Indiana Win: Nov. 14, 2020
Michigan State all-time record: 716-470-44 (.600)
Indiana all-time record: 499–689–44 (.423)


Uniform Watch:

Now these are cool! The Spartans are bringing back the script “State” design for the helmets, last seen in the season opener against Northwestern. This weekend, Michigan State is combining the helmets with the all-white “Stormtrooper” uniforms (MSU wore white tops with green pants against NU). The white jerseys will have green numbering and lettering.

A closer look at this week’s threads:

Indiana uniforms:


Previous Game Results

Michigan State 31, Rutgers 13

It was a record-setting day for the Spartans, as Michigan State became just the fifth FBS team ever to have a 300-yard passer (Payton Thorne), 200-yard rusher (Kenneth Walker III) and 200-yard receiver (Jalen Nailor) all in the same game. Walker also had the longest play from scrimmage in MSU program history with a 94-yard run, while Nailor set the SHI Stadium record with 221 receiving yards in a single game, which also was the fourth-most in a single game in MSU program history. Kicker Matt Coghlin also took the lead for most career field goals made by a Spartan with 72, passing Brett Swenson for the all-time record.

As for the game itself, the first half was a lot closer than the second half, but Michigan State did a lot of its damage off of three big plays in the first half, as Thorne found Nailor for three touchdowns — a 63-yard play in the first quarter, followed by another 63-yard score in the second quarter and then finally a 65-yard bomb with 6:51 left to play in the half. Rutgers scored a touchdown on its first possession of the game, and tacked on two field goals in the first half, and the Spartans led the Scarlet Knights 21-13 at halftime.

MSU then shut Rutgers out in the second half, outscoring the Scarlet Knights 10-0 thanks to Walker’s long touchdown run and Coghlin’s record-setting field goal. The final score was 31-13 in Michigan State’s favor, and despite all of the records broken, there were still a lot of things such as undisciplined penalties, odd coaching decisions and poor time management the Spartans need to clean up moving forward.

Penn State 24, Indiana 0

Indiana had a bye last weekend, but played Penn State the week before that, and the Hoosiers were shut out in that contest. Quarterback Michael Penix Jr. injured his shoulder in this game, which is why his status is in doubt against Michigan State this weekend. But even before the injury, Penix and the Indiana offense as a whole really struggled. Once Jack Tuttle entered the game in Penix’s place in the third quarter, the offensive struggles continued.

Penn State led 14-0 at halftime after a couple of touchdown passes from Sean Clifford, and then took a 21-0 lead on the Nittany Lions’ first possession of the second half. Penn State coasted the rest of the way, tacking on a field goal in the fourth quarter. The Nittany Lions held the Hoosiers to just 264 total yards, including just 69 rushing yards and 195 passing yards. Indiana turned it over twice, and Penn State recorded two sacks. Simply put, IU never threatened in this game.


Key Matchups

Michigan State defensive line versus Indiana offensive line: A lot of conversation this week has been about the struggles of Indiana’s offensive line, particularly in the running game. As Matt Sheehan pointed out in his “3-2-1 Preview” this week, Indiana has a “stuff rate” — the percentage of runs stopped at or behind the line of scrimmage — of 20.5 percent. That is not good, and ranks 97th out of 127 qualifying teams in the country, according to Football Outsiders. Indiana’s offensive line itself also only generates 2.45 “average line yards per carry,” which ranks 93rd in FBS. Overall, Indiana gets 3.4 yards per carry and Michigan State only allows 3.3 yards per carry. On paper, it looks like the Spartans’ defensive front should dominate the trenches, and that is a matchup MSU needs to win. Indiana is much better in pass protection, allowing nine sacks so far this season, but Michigan State is fifth in the nation with 23 sacks, and needs to get to the quarterback on Saturday.

Tiawan Mullen versus Jayden Reed/Jalen Nailor: Mullen is an All-American cornerback. He missed the Penn State game, but is expected back against Michigan State. He is one of the best cornerbacks in the Big Ten, and will likely draw both Reed and Nailor at various points in the game. Of course, Reed and Nailor are two of the best playmakers at the wide receiver spot in the Big Ten, so no matter which one Mullen covers, it’s essentially a heavyweight battle. Reed has been electric all season in both the receiving game and the punt return game, while Nailor has incredible speed, which he showed last week against Rutgers on the three long touchdown receptions. Keep an eye on the outside during to the game.

Update: Mullen was not active for the game.

Kenneth Walker III/MSU offensive line versus Indiana front seven: Kenneth Walker III might be the best college football player in America right now. He is the nation’s leading rusher with 913 yards, and a huge reason why Michigan State is averaging 217.2 rushing yards per game after ranking toward the bottom of the country in that category last season. Indiana, however, has a strong rushing defense, allowing just 126.8 yards per carry, which ranks the Hoosiers around the top-50 in the country. Indiana actually ranks slightly above Nebraska in rushing defense, and the Cornhuskers are the only team that has been able to contain Walker so far this season. Like I said in my first “key matchup” above, Michigan State has to win in the trenches — on both sides of the ball.


Game Info

Time: 12:03 p.m. Eastern
TV Channel: FS1
Location: Memorial Stadium, Bloomington, Indiana
Weather expectations: Sunny with temperatures around 55 degrees at kickoff and a high of 60 degrees for the day, winds blowing west/northwest at at 11-to-13 miles per hour.
Line: Michigan State -4.5


Overview:

Michigan State is riding high right now at 6-0, and with a bye week and then a big rivalry game against Michigan coming up, the Spartans absolutely cannot look past Indiana. I truly believe the Hoosiers are better than the team’s record shows — as IU has had an incredibly difficult early-season slate — and IU probably has the toughest defense that MSU has seen since Nebraska.

I expect Michael Penix Jr. to miss the game and Jack Tuttle to start at quarterback. While that is probably a setback for the Hoosiers, Tuttle has had two weeks to prepare for the Spartans, and the team should be recharged and focused following the bye week.

It is also a rivalry game with the Old Brass Spittoon up for grabs, and while Michigan State has dominated the series overall, funny things seem to happen in trophy games. Since it’s also Indiana’s homecoming, perhaps IU fans will come out for this one and try to give the Hoosiers a strong home-field advantage — but Memorial Stadium isn’t really known as the most intimidating of stadiums in the Big Ten.

All in all, I expect this one to play out similarly to the Rutgers game. The Hoosiers will hang tough and make the Spartans earn everything. Eventually, though, Michigan State is going to prove itself to be too much for Indiana to handle.

For additional thoughts on Indiana, check out our “Get to Know the Opponent” piece, or read our Q&A with Crimson Quarry — SB Nation’s home for Indiana Hoosiers content. For my responses to Crimson Quarry’s questions, read here.

Poll

Who wins the Old Brass Spittoon?

This poll is closed

  • 91%
    Michigan State
    (166 votes)
  • 8%
    Indiana
    (15 votes)
181 votes total Vote Now