The Michigan State Spartans (5-5, 3-4 in the Big Ten) play host to the Indiana Hoosiers (3-7, 1-6 in the Big Ten) on Saturday at noon Eastern Time (Big Ten Network). The Old Brass Spittoon is up for grabs and it will be senior day at Spartan Stadium.
Michigan State struggled to begin the year, but seems to be finding its footing to some degree toward the end of the regular season. Indiana, on the other hand, had some early success this season, but has since dropped seven games in a row.
In an effort to learn more about Indiana, we connected with Luke Norton, managing editor at The Crimson Quarry — SB Nation’s site for all things relating to the Hoosiers.
What exactly has gone wrong for the Hoosiers? Is there anything that Indiana does well? Is IU head coach Tom Allen on the hot seat? Luke answers these questions and more.
1. Indiana started 3-0, including with a win over Illinois, and has since lost seven games in a row. What has gone wrong for the Hoosiers this season?
Luke: Is “everything” an acceptable answer? Can I just leave it at that?
In all seriousness, it pretty much has been everything. Indiana got humbled very, very quickly after that first stretch in a 45-24 loss to Cincinnati on the road. It’s all been downhill from there, with the Hoosiers getting blown out by the traditional Big Ten East powers in Michigan, Penn State and Ohio State. In winnable games, against Rutgers, Maryland and Nebraska, Indiana fizzled out and had no answers in the fourth quarter.
Issues have included the overall play of the offensive line, growing inconsistency at quarterback, a faltering defense and absolutely zero running game.
2. While the 3-7 record is poor, what does Indiana do well? Are there any areas or matchups in the game you feel the Hoosiers have an advantage over the Spartans?
Luke: Uhhhhhh, hey man, those special teams can do some work, I’ll tell you what. Charles Campbell can make every kick in the book. Sean Wracher snaps the ball like Tom Brady throws a pass. James Evans has a hammer for a leg.
Other than that…not too much? Indiana goes fast on offense, as you’ve likely heard, so that can mean a very weird drive that probably can’t happen again or a very quick three-and-out. More likely the former than the latter.
If Dexter Williams II gets the start at quarterback, he’s significantly more mobile than usual starter Connor Bazelak. Allen rode the hot hand against Ohio State, he’d always planned on playing Williams II, but decided to just stick with him presumably for his ability to extend plays.
3. In your opinion, is Tom Allen still the right head coach to lead the Indiana program? Are fans ready to move on from Allen and his staff, or does he deserve to stay in Bloomington longer?
Luke: Ooo, big question.
So, Indiana is currently facing just about every problem you can possibly face in year six of Allen’s tenure. There’s no quarterback, no offensive line and Allen’s defense, which used to be effective and was the program’s identity, has become a sieve this season. Indiana is in a tailspin and I’m not confident Allen can pull the program out of it.
Allen’s hire of Walt Bell at offensive coordinator was *interesting* because of past comments and Bell’s style. His hire of Kalen DeBoer in 2019 was an absolute home run, and Allen liked DeBoer’s scheme and said he wanted that on offense to complement his defense, which is why he promoted Nick Sheridan to replace him. Bell is very different, with a scheme focused on tempo. As stated above, that tempo tends to wear out Allen’s defense when the offense can’t stay on the field. Allen also took over play-calling duties, which now looks like a massive mistake. He’s had moments, but this is the worst defense in the conference right now. In year six.
Allen built up incredible amounts of goodwill with the fan base in 2019 and 2020, and he’s seemingly lost every bit of it. Fans are getting fed up and I don’t anticipate a ton of turnout for the home finale against Purdue, which just says it all.
I don’t think Allen can fix this mess. Indiana’s offensive line has been is a state of deterioration since 2020 and it took until the Michigan game of this season to do anything about it. And Indiana’s underclassmen and incoming recruits aren’t a good fit for Walt Bell’s offense. It’s bad and it looks like it’s gonna stay that way.
4. Who are the players on Indiana’s offense to watch out for on Saturday?
Luke: If he’s healthy, D.J. Matthews. If Williams II starts at quarterback, he might make things happen with his legs.
5. On the other side of the field, who are the difference-makers on defense and why?
Luke: So, the list is short.
Tiawan Mullen has seemingly regressed at cornerback, but he’s still capable of making a few plays here and there. Star freshman linebacker Dasan McCullough has been quiet as of late, but is still capable as a do-everything kind of guy.
Bonus: What is your final score prediction?
Luke: I honestly don’t know much about Michigan State this year, really just that it’s been a struggle in year three under Mel Tucker with a few bright spots mixed in here and there.
That being said, they can score on offense. Indiana cannot. This game should probably end with a 28-10 victory for the Spartans.
I truly appreciate Luke for taking some time to provide thoughts and analysis on the Hoosiers. For more on Indiana, make sure to follow Luke on Twitter, and follow The Crimson Quarry as well.