Indiana has always been a tough out, and this week should be no exception. This Saturday at 7:30 EST the Spartans will head to Bloomington to take on the Hoosiers, and if there is such thing as a “must-win game” in the first week of B1G play, this is it. Michigan State is coming off of a tough road loss to Arizona State and really needs to get momentum back if they want any chance of the conference championship that many fans hoped for before this season kicked off.
The Hoosiers are coming off a 5-7 season that consisted of a few “moral victories” and one that didn’t look as bad as the win-loss tally showed. A lead at halftime against Ohio State and one possession games against both MSU and UofM showed the fight in this team, and while they have a lot of new faces on this roster, they have shown a lot in their 3-0 start. Quarterback Peyton Ramsey won the job this offseason and has looked efficient in his ability to stay poised in the pocket, control a game, and run when needed. Ramsey, a good QB in his own right, has a lot of help on offense with some dynamic play-makers surrounding him. Freshman running back Stevie Scott has taken over the position via a combination of injury and suspension, but has taken the spot by storm with 388 yards and 3 TDs to this point. He is a punishing runner at 6’2 233 lbs and he has the vision and deceiving speed to make big plays when they count on him. At WR they have Nick Westbrook back after a torn ACL last season, all-name candidate Whop Philyor, Donavan Hale (who has 3 TDs in the 1st 3 games), and J-Shun Harris who has 3 return TDs in the last two seasons, including one last week against Ball State. On defense this team is stout against the pass thus far in 2018 (aided by bad weather against a good Virginia team), and vulnerable against the run. Their safety duo is one of the best in the conference behind the play of Jonathan Crawford and Marcelino Ball.
It’s been a tough start to the season for an MSU team that came in with very high expectations. After what turned out to be a disappointing win against Utah State, Herm Edwards shattered the high hopes of Spartan fans with a last second field goal that sealed MSU’s 1st loss of the season. While there have been a lot of negatives resulting from the first two weeks (namely the piss poor play of the offensive line), all hope is not lost. A defense that was carved up by the Utah State passing game was much better against ASU, giving up only 3 points in the first 3 quarters. The run defense has been as good as advertised, and the secondary, led by Khari Willis and Justin Layne, has kept the team alive in key situations. There is a genuine need for a better pass rush in the base set, something that has been a staple of a proper Dantonio defense. While the offensive line play has been terrible, the passing game has been just south of phenomenal. Felton Davis and Cody White have both made the necessary steps forward to be All-B1G caliber players, and Lewerke, as sporadic as he can be, gives us a chance in every game we play. Ultimately this team is a slightly better pass rush and an offensive line away from being as good as advertised in the off-season.
Last year’s game was a doozy. The outlook was bleak in East Lansing until Brian Lewerke led a 4th quarter comeback, connecting on their 1st touchdown of the game with Felton Davis with 6 minutes left to take the lead. LJ Scott put the game away with less than two minutes left to make it a 17-9 finish in favor of MSU.
Mark Dantonio is traditionally mute on injuries, but one thing is for certain, the Spartans are banged up. The early bye week couldn’t have come at a better time for a team who is currently missing it’s CB1, LT, LG, RB, and more. CB Josiah Scott still hasn’t returned to practice. LT Cole Chewins played only 1 snap last week in Tempe. RB LJ Scott didn’t return last week after leaving the game in the 3rd quarter. LG David Beedle left on the final drive last week with a leg injury. DE Jacub Panasiuk left the game in the 4th quarter, and P Jake Hartbarger will be out 6-8 weeks and replaced by backup QB Rocky Lombardi (fake punts galore).
Indiana looked to be in tough shape to start the year, with starting running back Cole Gest tearing his ACL, but as mentioned freshman Stevie Scott has taken over nicely. Other than Gest, there are only a couple notable injuries for the Hoosiers. Gavin Everett (starting DE) is questionable this week, and offensive guard Mackenzie Nworah is officially out.
Keys to the Game:
Brian Lewerke vs. Indiana Defense
Indiana struggled mightily with Virginia’s duel-threat QB Bryce Perkins, who tallied 123 yards on the ground and 106 through the air (which would have been more had it not been for bad weather and dropped passes). Brian Lewerke will have to pick his spots against a talented IU defensive backfield, but the opportunity will be there to make big plays with his arm and legs.
Indiana Running Game vs. MSU Run Defense
I’ve mentioned this twice already, but Stevie Scott has looked tremendous thus far in his 1st season in Bloomington. This looks like a “strength against strength” situation against a stout MSU front 7. Whoever controls the line of scrimmage on this side of the ball will have a huge advantage in the game.
MSU O-Line vs. Indiana Front 7
This will likely be a key to every game the Spartans play this season. Tyler Higby has been an absolute liability at center, enough that Matt Allen got quite a bit of playing time at ASU and even drew a bit of praise from Dantonio this week. This team desperately needs LT Cole Chewins back to get some some sort of chemistry going, open holes in the running game, and protect Brian Lewerke in passing situations.
Goes without saying. It’s common knowledge that winning the turnover battle gives you a better chance to win the game, this is nothing new. It’s especially important this week because this is an Indiana team that struggled with their turnover margin last year, finishing -7 for the year. If MSU can force a couple turnovers and hang onto the ball, they should give themselves a chance for a much needed win in Memorial Stadium.
This will be a battle from start to finish. The line is currently set by Betonline.ag at 4.5 points in favor of Michigan State. While I do believe MSU will come out of Indiana 2-1, the smart money goes with the Hoosiers. Give me MSU by a field goal, 24-21.