The offense struggled to run the football all day, as Heisman Trophy candidate running back Kenneth Walker III was limited to just 84 yards on 22 carries (3.7 yards per attempt) and Spartan quarterback Payton Thorne struggled, especially in the first half, to move MSU through the air.
But, the Spartan defense grew stronger as the afternoon wore on and eventually made just enough plays to give the offense a chance. The offense took that chance, thanks in part to a pair of long second-half field goals by Matt Coghlin to steal the victory.
The Spartans opened the game by going three-and-out on three straight run plays. Then, Indiana proceeded to march down the field, eventually punching the ball inside the 10-yard-line, but the bend-but-don’t break MSU defense forced a field goal.
Michigan State then advanced the ball to near midfield, but a clear Jalen Nailor catch along the sidelines was ruled incomplete, forcing another Spartan punt.
On the ensuing Indiana possession, Spartan linebacker Cal Haladay bluffed a blitz on third down and dropped into coverage. He proceeded to snag the pass from Hoosier quarterback Jack Tuttle and scampered 30 yards for his first career interception and first career pick-six to give Michigan State an early 7-3 lead.
After a Hoosier three-and-out, a poor offensive possession by the Spartans and a partially blocked punt gave Indiana the ball just inside Spartan territory. Once again, however, the Michigan State defense forced a stop and another Indiana field goal.
After another short possession from the Spartans, the Hoosiers drove into the red zone (aided in part by a questionable roughing the passer penalty), but the Spartan defense held firm and the Hoosiers had to settle for another field goal.
At halftime, the Spartans had only two first downs, 57 total yards, and four completed passes, yet they only trailed 9-7. The Green and White had four three-and-outs in six possessions and the longest drive lasted only six plays.
Offensive line play was a bit sloppy all day with multiple false start penalties and holding penalties. Thorne seemed to be struggling with some accuracy issues with the wind in Bloomington.
To start the second half, Indiana once again drove into Spartan territory, but the Michigan State defense got the stop when it mattered to force a punt.
The Spartan offense then started to show some signs of life. In the first possession of the second half, Michigan State picked up more first downs (three) than it did in the entire first half to advance into Hoosier territory.
When a Thorne draw play on third-and-long failed to pick up the first down, Coghlin gave the Spartans the 10-9 lead on a career-high-tying 51-yard field goal.
The Spartan defense then forced a three-and-out and the MSU offense drove into Indiana territory, but Thorne threw his third interception of the year to give the ball back to the Hoosiers on the Spartan 26-yard-line.
The Spartans’ Darius Snow returned the favor a few plays later, giving Michigan State the ball on the Indiana 39-yard-line. Offensive coordinator Jay Johnson then dipped into the bag of tricks. First, there was the double pitch to Tyler Hunt who then threw the ball to Thorne to advance the ball into the red zone. The call was originally ruled an incomplete pass, but video replay clearly showed both Thorne’s foot down and possession of the ball, allowing the drive to continue,
On third down, the Spartans ran some misdirection that resulted in Hunt standing alone in the end zone for the first offensive touchdown of the day for either team. The Spartans took a 17-9 lead with the third quarter drawing to a close.
Indiana then drove the ball down the field into the red zone, thanks in large part to two very questionable pass interference calls. The Hoosiers eventually did find the end zone, but failed on a two-point conversion, leaving the score at 17-15, Spartans.
MSU then pushed deep into Indiana territory and seemed poised to extend the lead further. Disaster almost struck on a key third down, however, as the Spartans fumbled on an exchange between Thorne and Walker. Coghlin was rock solid again, though, nailing a 49-yard field goal to extend the Spartans’ lead to 20-15.
The Spartan defense then stood tall, forcing a three-and-out and giving the ball back to Thorne and the offense with under eight minutes to play. After a seven-yard pick-up on a quarterback draw on first down, the Green and White offense sputtered and had to give the ball back to the Crimson and Cream with five-and-a-half minutes left in the game.
Indiana picked up one first down on a Tuttle scramble, but on the next third-and-10, a corner blitz helped to cause a critical fumble, giving the ball to the Spartans with a chance to put the game away.
However, Thorne committed a critical error and under-threw Nailor on a potential kill-shot to the end zone, resulting in an interception.
The Spartan defense, though, was up to the task, especially on the defensive line. Play after play, the players along the Michigan State defensive line found themselves in the Hoosier backfield in the final minutes, causing two sacks and eight consecutive incompletions from Tuttle on Indiana’s final two possessions. A Hail Mary on fourth-and-21 fell to the ground, allowing the Spartans to run out the clock and preserve the win and 7-0 record.
The final stat sheet is not pretty. Indiana led in first downs (24 to 14) and total yards (322 to 241), but the Spartans did win the turnover battle three-to-two. Fortunately, what actually matters is the final score: 20-15.
Michigan State now goes into the bye week with a perfect record, and has two weeks to prepare for an almost certain top-10 matchup with the Michigan Wolverines on Oct. 30 in Spartan Stadium. Go Green!