Welcome back to our series previewing the 2013 Indiana football schedule week-by-week. Last time we finally kicked off Big Ten play with the Hoosiers Week Six matchup against Penn State. However, that doesn’t mean that Week Seven doesn’t hold its own significance for Indiana. It is in fact the Hoosiers first road game of the season. Yes, that’s right, the program that has played neutral site games against Ball State and traveled to the northeast to face UMass, will not be playing away from Memorial Stadium until the second weekend in October.
In addition, this isn’t just any old road trip. No sir, the Hoosiers will be traveling north to battle for The Old Brass Spittoon. The Hoosiers have not had much success historically in this rivalry as they have won just 14 of the 59 games played. Recent results have not strayed from the norm, as the Hoosiers have not captured the Spittoon since 2006. Last year, however, Indiana put up a fight as they lost in a one-possession game 31-27.
Week 7: Michigan State Spartans
Time & Date: 12 pm, Saturday, Oct. 12th
Venue: Spartan Stadium (East Lansing, MI)
Spartans at a Glance:
Head Coach: Mark Dantonio (51-28, 6 years)
Last Season: 7-6 (3-5, 4th Big Ten-Legends)
Offensive Formation: Multiple
Defensive Formation: 4-3
Returning Team Leaders:
Passing: Andrew Maxwell (52.5%, 2606 Yds, 13 TD, 9 INT)
Rushing: Larry Caper (108 Yds, 6.0 Avg, 0 TD)
Receiving: Bennie Fowler (41 Rec., 524 Yds, 12.8 Avg, 4 TD)
Preseason Magazine Predictions for Michigan State:
Athlon: 7-5 (3-5), 4th Place Big Ten Legends
Lindy’s: 2nd Place Big Ten Legends
Phil Steele: T-1st Place Big Ten Legends
Why the Spartans could win:
It would be blasphemous to begin anywhere other then the Spartans defense, a unit ranked 9th in the nation in points per game allowed last season. This was not a fluke either. There were not a few shutouts against lowly opponents to cover up a bad showing or two against explosive offenses. In fact Michigan State did not allow more than 28 points in a single game all season.
The Spartans return just over half of their starters from last season, but that should not be a problem for defensive coordinator Pat Narduzzi who has distinguished himself as one of the preeminent defensive minds in the nation. A pair of senior leaders in linebacker Max Bullough and corner Darqueze Dennard will anchor the defense. Both were first team All-Big Ten selections last season.
In addition first-team All-Big Ten punter Mike Sadler is back for the Spartans. This might seem a bit absurd, a punter being a reason that a team could win a game. The fact of the matter is, is that Sadler is that good, and the Spartans’ offense is that bad. Sadler has the ability to essentially take points off the board for opponents singlehandedly with his 43.3 yards per punt average while placing 40 percent of his punts inside the 20 and 20 percent inside the 10-yard line.
While the Hoosiers were able to tally the second highest point total that the Spartans allowed in 2012, it was still just 27 points. Even more disturbing for Indiana fans should be the fact that after giving up a shocking 27 points in the first half, the Spartans adjusted and shut the Hoosiers out completely in the second stanza.
Why They Won’t Pull it Off:
I don’t know if you noticed, but there was a rather glaring omission from the “Why the Spartans Could Win” section…that would be the offense! Yes, the entire returning offensive unit is so poor that they did not warrant even a sentence when it comes to helping the Spartans win. It was abysmal last year as Michigan State averaged just 20 points per game, placing them at 100th in the nation. Don’t forget, that was with workhorse running back Le’Veon Bell carrying the torch. Bell rushed for 1,793 yards and 12 touchdowns. All of that productions is now gone, with no established option waiting in the wings.
When you look under center the situation gets even uglier. Andrew Maxwell is discussed as if he was a redshirt freshman starting his first season last year, when in fact he will be entering 2013 as a fifth-year senior. He was so bad last year that he averaged just one yard more per attempt passing (5.84) as Le’Veon Bell did rushing (4.7). Realistically by the time Week Seven rolls around, there could be an even bigger question mark at the position if they have to turn the page and move on to another signal caller.
While Indiana was not able to have an explosive offensive performance for the entirely of last years game, they sure did in the first half. The Hoosiers tallied 27 points in the first two quarters, and then the Spartans top ranked defense adjusted and clamped down. With another set of camps under their belt, Seth Littrell and his weapons should feel more comfortable with each other. This should lead to more varied looks, and the ability to make in-game adjustments in a smoother and more effective fashion.
In my Week Four piece I told you how the Missouri Tigers were essentially a mirror image of what Indiana brings to the table. In Week Seven Michigan State brings the exact opposite. The Hoosiers possess an explosive offensive that carries their defense, while the Spartans have a tough nosed defense that keeps them in games despite their lackluster offense.
The first road game for any team can be a challenge. It will be the first time that this edition of the Indiana Hoosiers will be traveling away from their creature comforts at home. It doesn’t help that Indiana may very well be the toughest game of the month for the Spartans, yea it’s that weak.
This will be a game dictated by tempo and possession. Both teams will try to dictate the game by their terms, and whoever is successful will likely walk away the winner. If Indiana can get over 30 points on the board they should have a great chance to win against a tough Michigan State Squad
Indiana Chance of Winning: 40%