Written By: Nick Holmes (@HoosierHolmes)
There's little doubt that last Saturday's loss to Rutgers was a low for the program, but the most important question is, can this team recover from Scarlet Fever? On Saturday afternoon at 3:30 the Hoosiers, in my opinion, face their toughest test of the season. The Spartans are far from lighting the world on fire so far this season, but considering how much Michigan State has riding on this game and the fact that it's at Spartan Stadium, it will take a monumental effort by the Cream and Crimson to come out on top and return home with the Brass Spittoon. It's not impossible, otherwise, no reason to take the field, but the statistics aren't exactly in the favor of the Indiana. As such, let's take a look at the 'Numbers that Matter' vs. Michigan State.
7-0 - Has it been pretty? No. Has it taken a little luck and good fortune along the way? Sure, look no further than last week's surprise come from behind win over instate rival Michigan. But that doesn't take away from the fact the Mark Dantonio and his Spartans are undefeated and still remain a player in the playoff picture. 'Win and you're in' is the motto, so I'd be surprised if the guys in green came out flat, as they know what is riding on this game.
75,005 - I recently made the trip up to Spartan Stadium back in 2013, when the Hoosiers lost 42-28. There's no shortage of good things I can say about their fans; they were polite, humble, but most importantly, passionate. And no, the last few games haven't been stalwart performances by the men in green, but they are still in the playoff hunt, and their 75,000-plus screaming fans will do everything in their power for it to remain that way.
17-1 - Speaking of a home field advantage, winning in East Lansing has been nearly impossible the last couple of seasons. Since the start of the 2013 season, the Spartans have won 17 of their 18 match ups at home, with their only loss coming against the eventual national champions Ohio State Buckeyes, 49-37.
0-6 - It's not just on the road that Indiana has had difficulty beating the Spartans, but the Hoosiers have yet to beat to beat Michigan State with Mark Dantonio at the helm in six attempts.
4.67 - But like I said, things haven't come easy for the Spartans, especially in Big Ten play. Sure, they are 3 and 0, but none of their wins have been especially impressive, narrowly defeating a weak Purdue team 24-21 , a defensively challenged Rutgers squad 31-24, and needing devine intervention to beat the Wolverines, 27-23. When you average that out, it's a win margin of just 4.67 points. They haven't really showed the propensity to blowout their opponents so far this fall, so is the weekend they attempt to flex their muscles to impress voters?
1 - 100 yard rushers the Michigan State defense has allowed so far this season. It just so happened to be Purdue true freshman Markell Jones, from Columbus East High School.
5 - The Spartans lost some talented wide receivers heading into the 2015 season, but senior Aaron Burbridge has stepped in quite nicely this fall. He's eclipsed the 100-yard receiving mark five times so far this season and is averaging over 100 yards per game. Whomever draws this assignment will have there hands full all afternoon.
36.6 - The Spartans have been operating on a tight margin the last few weeks. but if you can be sure of one thing, they won't beat themselves. They are the eighth least penalized team in the nation at just under 37 yards per game.
65.1 - On the opposite end of the spectrum is Indiana, who is still getting hit with just over 65 penalty yards per game. For a team that doesn't have a lot of wiggle room, minimizing self-inflicted injuries is a must.
3 - Back to the Spartans 'not beating themselves category,' Connor Cook and Co. have only turned the ball over three times through seven games.
13 - One of the ways Indiana has been able to stay in and win some games is their defense's ability to force turnovers. But, like I said, MSU takes great care not to give up possessions, so between an immovable object and a unstoppable force, who wins?
12 - The Spartans defense isn't too shabby in this category either, forcing 12 turnovers so far this season.
1 -20 - Road woes don't even begin to explain Indiana's inability to perform away from Memorial Stadium. In 21 tries, Coach Wilson has won only one Big Ten on the road since taking over in 2011, which was a 31-17 win over the Illini in Champaign during his second season.
7 - The only team to give up fewer sacks in the Big Ten than Indiana, Michigan State has allowed just seven sacks all year, or one per game. We've stated ad nauseam the importance of getting to the opposing quarterback, something that has been fairly hit or miss throughout the season. Want a good way to turn the tide on Saturday? A sack-fumble wouldn't be a bad way to quiet down the natives of East Lansing, Michigan.
2006 - It has been far too long since Indiana has had possession of the Old Brass Spittoon, can they bring an end to the Spartans dominance on Saturday?
Like I said on Wednesday's pregame podcast, the Spartans are far from beating their opponents into submission, so it will be interesting to see if this team feels like it has something to prove on Saturday. And instead of going up against the likes of 300 Spartans, they'll find themselves in a Coliseum among 75,000. As such, Indiana will need to get plenty of rest on Friday evening and eat a hearty breakfast on Saturday morning, because at 3:30 eastern time, the Hoosiers will be dining in hell.