Spartans and Hoosiers set to open Big Ten play
Michigan State had an open date last week, giving them more time to lament their upset loss at Arizona State and to prepare for their Big Ten opener against Indiana. The Spartans had opportunities to distance themselves from the Sun Devils but let the home team hang around and pull off a stunner.
Last week, the Hoosiers had no such trouble with Ball State, answering an opening field goal with 24 straight points to close the first half. In the second half, IU scored two touchdowns to the Cardinals’ one to cruise to 3-0 on the year.
Michigan State leads the all-time series against Indiana, 47-14-2. In Bloomington, the Spartans holds an advantage of 21-9-1. Michigan State has won eight of the last nine matchups with the Hoosiers and is 7-2 in their last nine trips to Bloomington, dating back to 1995.
Michigan State at Indiana
Kickoff: Saturday, Sept. 22 at 7:30 p.m. ET
Spread: Spartans -4.5
Three Things to Watch
1. Can the Spartans avoid more game-changing turnovers?
Turnovers are never a positive for the team giving away the ball. However, the Spartans’ turnovers have proved particularly costly. Those mistakes have sabotaged chances to pull away from opponents.
Utah State kicked a field goal to cut the Spartans’ lead to 10 points late in the third quarter of the season opener. On the first play from scrimmage following that score, Brian Lewerke threw an interception that the Aggies returned for a touchdown. That miscue kept USU within striking distance. The Spartans needed a touchdown with two minutes left to escape with a win at home.
At Arizona State, the Spartans were driving to add to their 3-0 lead midway through the second quarter. Lewerke’s pass into end zone was deflected and intercepted. That allowed the Sun Devils to go into the locker room full of hope for the upset which they pulled off by outscoring MSU 13-0 in the fourth quarter.
2. Is Peyton Ramsey capable of continuing his high level of success against defenses in the Big Ten?
Ramsey, a redshirt sophomore, has played quite efficiently though he has not piled up many gaudy statistics in the non-conference portion of the Hoosiers’ schedule. His passing attempts have numbered in the 20s. He has not completed more than 20 passes in any game so far for an average of 159.7 yards per game. However, he has thrown five touchdowns and only two interceptions while completing between 72 and 74 percent of his passes in all three games. He has also run with the ball between six and nine times in each game. He has averaged 3 or more yards per carry and 35.3 yards per game. He has one rushing touchdown.
Ramsey faced five Big Ten opponents in 2017. In those games, he completed 83 of 136 pass attempts for a 61 percent completion rate. He averaged 140.6 passing yards per game. He threw five touchdowns and four interceptions. In four of those five contests, he ran with the ball between twelve and fifteen times. In total, he had 58 rushing attempts for 118 yards for no touchdowns against other Big Ten teams.
3. Can the Hoosiers rise to the occasion against a ranked Big Ten opponent?
The Hoosiers face some daunting historical obstacles. They have started one season in the past 27 with a record of 4-0. That one exception, in 2015, began with wins over an FCS opponent and two from Conference USA, all in Bloomington, then a victory at Wake Forest, which finished 3-9. The Hoosiers have not come out of the gates 4-0 including a win over someone in the Big Ten since 1990.
Indiana has not defeated anyone in the Big Ten who finished with a winning record since October of 2013 when the Hoosiers beat Penn State at home. Starting in 2009, they have faced a Big Ten opponent in the Top 25 thirty-one times. They won only once in those contests. Coincidentally, that one victory occurred in these same circumstances two years ago: at home versus Michigan State. Could the presence of plenty of players in crimson from that exceptional win boost the confidence of the rest of the Hoosiers’ roster?
Michigan State has spent two weeks hearing and reading about its subpar performances to start the season. A last-minute victory at home over Utah State then a last-second loss at Arizona State gave skeptics plenty of ammunition to fire holes into the Spartans’ legitimacy. Arizona State followed its win over the Spartans by face-planting at San Diego State, further diminishing Michigan State’s reputation. Can the Spartans start to justify their Top 25 ranking by winning on the road?
Indiana has proved in recent years that it can win non-conference games, even over teams from other Power 5 conferences. Now, the Hoosiers have an opportunity to take down a fellow member of the Big Ten East who is in the Top 25. Even if Indiana can defeat the two obvious weaklings within the division, Maryland and Rutgers, they still will have to upset someone else to finish above .500 at the end of the regular season. Can the Hoosiers manage to do that at home as they did two seasons ago?
The Hoosiers are catching the Spartans at a terribly inopportune time. Many critics are questioning why Michigan State remains in the national polls. The men in green will go out to silence skeptics in a noteworthy fashion.
Prediction: Michigan State 34, Indiana 13
— Written by John La Fleur, a contributor to AthlonSports.com, who focuses on the New Orleans Saints and Michigan State Spartans. He also frequently comments on other teams in the NFL and in NCAA football. Follow him on Twitter @FBConnoisseur and read his viewpoints at gridironconnoisseur.wordpress.com and at gridiron-connoisseur.blogspot.com.