Scouting Report and Prediction: #24 Michigan State 1-1 vs. Indiana 3-0

 

A look at this week’s opponent…

 

The #24 Michigan State Spartans continue their pursuit and march towards a Big Ten title and College Football Playoff berth.  They are good enough to get there, but with their loss to Arizona State they have no margin for mistake.

 

The season hinges on this game.  A loss and MSU is out of any playoff talk and while not mathematically eliminated, is essentially out of a Big Ten Title race.  I am not one for statements.  I am not one for pomp and circumstance.  On this day, at this time, I am.  Mark Dantonio and his staff and players need to make one and make it now and loud.

 

Michigan State is not Purdue, Rutgers or Maryland.  They are a loaded team with much bigger ambitions.  Those programs have a lot to live for at 1-2.  This year and this time, MSU season stands on the brink of failure three games in with a loss.  This is not the IU teams of old.  They play hard, tough and aggressive.  Make no mistake, they beat themselves in East Lansing last year, and they are out for blood.

 

MSU head coach Mark Dantonio said of playing the Hoosiers that, “Play for the Brass Spittoon, long-standing trophy game for us, and we’ve been fortunate on the front end of that, for the most part, as we move forward here but we’ll play for that.  I’ve been very impressed with (Indiana head coach Tom Allen) Coach Allen, what he’s been able to accomplish at IU since becoming the head football coach. Instills toughness, they play a great defense. Obviously, they have always played very good offensively as well.  When you look at them as a football team right now, they are 3-0. They have beaten FIU, Virginia, and then this past weekend, Ball State.”

 

Indian Coach Tom Allen says of the Spartans, “When I watch the film, it’s the same team we played last year. One of the youngest teams in the country, in the Big Ten last year. Pretty much all the same guys that we played last year are back. Bigger, faster, stronger. They’re a year older.  They come into this season, are projected to be one of the best teams in our conference. That’s what they are. We’re going to have to continue to elevate our preparation and focus as we are excited to welcome into Memorial Stadium to play at 7:30 kickoff.”

When MSU has the ball…

 

The IU rushing defense is one of the worst in America.  No excuses.  If MSU can’t run the ball, then they just can’t.  IU will load the box knowing that is the mindset of the Spartans.  MSU must be willing to pass to run if IU loads the box and they will be fine.  If they are stubborn, it will be a very long day.

 

Allen says of Brian Lewerke and the Spartan offensive attack that “I tell you what, that’s what makes it hard. He’s an accurate passer. They got big receivers that can be matchup problems. He’s athletic enough to beat you with his legs. He’s tough enough to run over you. That’s kind of always a big challenge with a big quarterback like that because the rules are such to protect him. He comes barreling at you, runs you over, instead of sliding sometimes.  I think he’s a tough old guy that loves to play the game. He’s kind of my kind of guy playing quarterback, to be honest with you. I have a lot of respect for him, how hard and tough he plays.”

He added, “I think for them when he really started figuring things out, playing really well last year, that’s when they took off. That’s how it is at that position. That position really is about leadership and production. He’s really good at doing both. You can just tell they believe in him. I think that’s kind of the difference. The year that we were able to — my first year here when we beat them in overtime, I don’t think they had the kind of quarterback play they probably were looking for. It was early in the season, just like it is now. But they didn’t have that established guy there they were trying to figure that out. I think they have that now. O.J. Scott is a tremendously talented running back with a big old load, has great feet, good speed. They’re really a complete team. They don’t have a weakness. They’re very, very solid in all phases, special teams included. Their defense is maybe the strength of their team.  When you watch them, there’s a lot of similarities. Obviously, the scheme always varies, they’ll have wrinkles and things they’re trying to give to us. A typical Michigan State, Coach Dantonio team, physical, fundamental, tough. That’s what they’re going to be.”

 

Dantonio says of the IU defense that, “Defensively, a lot of new guys defensively. They lost a lot of all-conference players, so they are playing a lot of different people but No. 9, (Jonathan) Crawford at safety and No. 91 (Jacob) Robinson at defensive tackle is playing very well for them. They are the older players and returning starters.  He’s (Coach Allen) got them playing hard on defense, as always, it seems. Give you a lot of different looks, a lot of different pressures.”

When MSU is on defense…

 

The Spartan D has been solid all year.  But they give up a lot of yards passing.  No one should care about how many yards the Spartans give up, but they should be concerned about points.  IU will get their yards, but MSU must make their attack aerial alone and they should be fine.  IU can run the ball now and stopping that will not be as glamorous as stopping the pass, but it is the key to victory.

 

Dantonio says of the Hoosiers that, “Offensively, when you look at them, Peyton Ramsey is their quarterback, and I think he’s done a tremendous job there, throwing the ball for I think 72-plus or 74 percent completion rate but high, very high. Been very productive.”

CB Justin Layne told me this week how he used the bye week.  “We did a lot of soul-searching.  Just finding out the little things that are problems in our game.”  That said a lot to me considering defense has not been the issue.

He continued with, “Wide receiver-wise, they’ve got guys they go to. (Senior wide receiver Nick) Westbrook is back after an ACL injury. Been very impressed with their young players, their tailbacks; (Stevie) Scott, No. 21, a guy that can hand the ball to and he’s been productive.”

He added, “And then also No. 2, Reese Taylor, a guy who was Mr. Indiana last year in high school, an outstanding quarterback in high school, threw for 7,000 yards in high school, but they are using him as sort of a dual-threat kind of guy, plays a lot of different positions: plays tailback, wide receiver, probably could throw it as well. All their offensive line is basically intact so they will be a challenge on offense.”

 

Intangibles…

Excuse me for stating the obvious, but here we go.  If this Spartan team is as good as I think they are.  As good as most of you thought they were entering the season and as good as most of America thought, the time is now.  Poop or get off the pot.

 

The Spartans have zero room for error.  Coach D is correct that all of their goals are ahead of them, but not with a loss.  You are what your record says you are and right now at 1-1 they are mediocre.  If they are better than that, and I still think they are, this must be their day.

 

Remember the rule of five. If MSU wins that, this game is over. For those who don’t remember it, it has to do with sacks and turnovers. If the Spartans have three sacks and give up two that means they are plus one. If they then get four turnovers and give up only one that means they are plus three. That would give them a plus four for the day. They want to get to a plus-five ratio at least every game.  Last game MSU and ASU were at ZERO.  MSU was upset.

Special teams can be a major intangible.  Dantonio said of IU superstar special team’s player J-Shun Harris, “He’s done an outstanding job at their special teams, had one touchdown last week and another one called back and the punter dropped the punt. You know, that’s not good. We’re getting a new punter out there. You see that, and so they came up with that one, as well.”

He added, “So they have been very productive the last week on special teams. He’s a guy that you have to defend and you have to work special things throughout practice to really get ready for him, and he should be commended just for coming back from I think his third ACL injury. So he’s a testament to hard work and dedication, there’s no question about that.

Allen says IU will have the big crowd.  “Really excited about having a great crowd and having a great support. I thought our crowd on Saturday was really good. Beautiful weather. Just appreciate our fans supporting us, being here for us, cheering loud, and helping us be successful on game day. We want to always be appreciative of that.”

Allen says he expects a lot of new things from the Spartans, “I’m sure like everybody else, they’re not going to just advertise exactly who’s going to be there, not be there. We don’t know who is back or not, whatever. The way I approach it is, you basically got to be great in-game coaching early in the year.  A lot of question marks. They only played two games. Already having their bye week, we don’t have a big body of work to study on them. We have previous seasons. They’re coaching staff has been pretty consistent on that side of the ball. I think it definitely puts you at a disadvantage in some ways.  You have to adjust on the run. You basically build or plan up based on what you know. That’s what I try to do, build on what you know, adjust on what happens that you may not know. You don’t want to chase a bunch of ghosts, what may or may not possibly happen.  The personnel parts of it, they’ll announce certain things, who is in, who is out. To me, whoever they have in that spot is going to be ready to play. They’ll do a great job. There definitely is going to be some unknowns for sure.”

 

I do not expect Rocky Lombardi to be the starting punter as every other media outlet is reporting.  It doesn’t mean he wouldn’t get a look if other players falter or are injured, but I don’t expect him to have that spot to start

 

Extra Point…

Dantonio said of the position of the bye week after ASU and the mindset of his team that, “ I think when you come off a game like that, first of all, you have an opportunity to really look at what happened in the game and step back and deal with it. Then you also have a chance to get over it. But usually, the best way to get over a tough loss is to play another game. I don’t know, again, you go back, Catch 22 situation on those things.  Nobody likes to lose and when you lose, you want to get back on the other end — the other side of things.  I think our players have had an opportunity to sit on this and dwell on this a little bit and they have also had time to step away from football for a day or so; we gave them that opportunity, as well. You know, I’m looking forward to watching our players play on Saturday night. That’s all I can tell you.”

 

Prediction…

 

Under Dantonio, the IU game has never been a gimme.  He addressed that saying, “I think IU has played us very well. They expect to play us very well again. It’s always been a close football game, you know, really, throughout time, really, even when there’s been a couple of occasions where we’ve sort of distanced ourselves, it’s been at the end of the game.”

He added about the rivalry that, “What kind of things have they done? What I said before, they have ran some trick plays where they hit us in the past and jumped out 17-0 I think (in 2012), I don’t know, way back. You know, hit a couple plays on us and we had to come back on them. It’s always been a great football game and a great football game to watch and they have always been a great challenge for us.”

 

Last year IU should have beaten MSU.  Allen talked about that, “We didn’t finish last season. It was 9-3 in the fourth quarter, had opportunities to hopefully score touchdowns in the red zone. To their credit defensively, that didn’t happen for us. They were really good on defense.  They’re really good again this year. Haven’t given up hardly any rushing yards all, stingy down in the red zone. Coach Dantonio always has a great defense, big, strong guys that are very well-coached. The expectation is we got to score touchdowns when we get down there. You don’t beat a team like this kicking field goals. That’s the objective there, the expectation.  We got to play great defense. We’re still developing and growing. They have big old backs, big receivers, really good quarterback, big old offensive line. They’re a bona fide, legit Big Ten football team that’s contending for the Big Ten championship.  We are going to have to play our best game of the season, have our best week of preparation, execute at the highest level in all three phases.”

 

To me this game is simple.  MSU, the coaches and players are either what we think or they aren’t.  MSU has lost game two in the past and went on to magical seasons.  I stick with my gut and predict MSU gets the ship and the season back on course.  In the end, I say MSU wins this 31-17.

 

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