Michigan State kicked off its Big Ten slate with a clunker, getting trounced by then-No. 11 Wisconsin 30-6. The Spartans’ offense had all sorts of issues, allowing four sacks, turning the ball over four times (one fumble, three interceptions) and rushing for a season-low 75 yards. Not a recipe for success in the Big Ten.
Indiana made a valiant comeback in the second half against Wake Forest, putting up 500 yards of total offense on the day, but could not overcome the five interceptions thrown by quarterback Richard Lagow and fell 33-28 at home.
Both teams will be looking to rebound in what looks to be a crucial early-season matchup to avoid falling behind, if not out of, the Big Ten East race.
Michigan State at Indiana
Kickoff: Saturday, Oct. 1 at 8 p.m. ET
TV Channel: Big Ten Network
Spread: Michigan State -8.5
Three Things to Watch
1. Quarterback Concerns
As noted above, the quarterbacks for both schools had a rough go of it last week. Former junior college transfer Richard Lagow was off to a solid start for Indiana, completing 65 percent of his passes with four touchdowns and zero interceptions. Lagow fell flat last week against Wake Forest, however, as he tossed five interceptions, though those did come in 47 attempts as the Hoosiers were trying to come back down two touchdowns. Michigan State’s Tyler O’Connor had similar struggles, throwing three interceptions and being sacked four times against Wisconsin, largely due in part to being late on his progressions. The fifth-year senior has now thrown an interception in each of the first three games this season, and will need to step up his play if he is to hold on to his starting job throughout the year. Don’t be surprised if the winning side of this matchup is the team whose quarterback turns the ball over the least.
2. The Next Step
The loss to Wake Forest was deflating, but where Indiana head coach Kevin Wilson really needs his team to make headway is within the conference. Since taking over in 2011, Wilson has combined to go 8-32 in Big Ten games. With regards to this matchup specifically against the Spartans, Indiana has lost all five contests to Michigan State during Wilson’s tenure and the last seven overall. Last year, the Hoosiers were within two points heading into the fourth quarterback before everything went off the rails, losing 52-26. For Wilson to get his team to a second straight bowl appearance, and help justify the brand new six-year deal he signed over the offseason, a game against a reeling Michigan State needs to start showing up in the win column.
3. Big-Play Ability
The deep ball has been an integral part of the Indiana passing game thus far in 2016. The Hoosiers are one of two teams (Louisville being the other) in college football with two receivers ranking in the top 25 in yards per catch. Both Nick Westbrook and Ricky Jones are averaging better than 25 yards per reception. Westbrook, who stepped in for the injured Simmie Cobbs earlier in the year, already has two catches of 70 or more yards through three games, including a 75-yard touchdown on the first play from scrimmage last week against Wake Forest. On the other side, Jones added in a 65-yard reception to set up Westbrook’s second touchdown of the game. Look for the Hoosiers to take a couple of shots down the field Saturday against a Michigan State secondary that has yet to live up to the “no fly zone” nickname the group gave itself last year.
With questions at quarterback and injuries to key contributors on the defensive side of the ball for Michigan State, is this Indiana’s best shot at pulling an upset and ending the seven-year winless drought? The Hoosiers have the firepower to give the Spartans’ defense trouble, specifically with the Ricky Jones/Nick Westbrook combination on the outside and Devine Redding running in between the tackles. But these are the moments typically when we see Mark Dantonio-coached teams thrive - with their backs against the wall. If quarterback Tyler O'Connor can be efficient throwing the football, and we see some semblance of a rushing attack, look for Sparty to edge out a narrow victory.
Prediction: Michigan State 27, Indiana 23
— Written by Mike Bainbridge, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. Bainbridge is a graduate of Northern Illinois University. Make sure to follow him on Twitter @MikeBainbridge2.