The vaunted Indiana offense will face its toughest test to date when the Hoosiers roll into East Lansing, Mich., on Saturday.
IU (3-2, 1-0 Big Ten) will be on the road for the first time this year and going for its first win against Michigan State at Spartan Stadium since 2001. The Spartans (4-1, 1-0) boast the best defense in the nation.
It’s a threat offensive coordinator Seth Littrell knows plenty about.
That defense is predicated on stopping the run, Littrell said of the Spartans, who give up less than 2 yards per rush attempt. It’s extremely hard to run the ball against them. They’re going to make you one-dimensional.
On top of that, Michigan State is tops in the nation in pass efficiency, allowing completions on just 41.4 percent of passes from opposing quarterbacks. The Spartans’ 203.8 yards a game lead the NCAA, too.
A week after scoring 44 points in a historic win against Penn State, a top-15 defense, IU will face an even stouter unit.
Putting together a strong practice week and handling success the right way will be key, IU coach Kevin Wilson said.
As soon as we do good, we get patted on the back and we don’t prepare the right way, he said.
The Hoosiers can’t let that happen leading into Saturday’s matchup.
IU hasn’t had much of a run game this season, and although the Hoosiers will try to establish one against the Spartans, beating the averages in the secondary will be more important.
It will be a tough task. IU is still without junior right tackle Peyton Eckert, who has a nagging back injury, and backup offensive guard David Kaminski is sidelined with a leg injury. That, coupled with the Spartans’ use of press coverage on wideouts, could put added pressure on sophomore quarterback Nate Sudfeld.
Game-in, game-out, they’ve proved they’re one of the best defenses in the league, Littrell said. You’ve got to make those plays.
The Hoosiers have done a good job of that. Beating the Nittany Lions for the first time and posting the most points against Penn State since Wisconsin in 2011 were no small tasks.
Indiana got some help from its defense, as well. Michigan State leans heavily on its defensive prowess because of a lack of consistency offensively.
The Spartans have scored at least 21 points in each of their wins this year but No. 64 in rushing yards, with just 176.6 per game, are outside the top 100 in passing yards.
Those numbers present an opportunity for the Hoosiers to build off a surprising performance. IU gave up just 120 yards on designed run plays by Penn State on Saturday in its first Big Ten-opening victory since 2000.
The Nittany Lions, a top-50 rushing team, got 3.9 yards a carry, and freshman quarterback Christian Hackenberg was forced to throw a school-record 55 times to try and keep his team in the game.
The talk centers on how the Spartans make teams one-dimensional. But if IU can do the same, it evens the odds a bit. Redshirt sophomore Connor Cook, who has taken the majority of the Michigan State snaps at quarterback, is not as well equipped to deal with that kind of offensive volume.
The big thing defensively is you’ve gotta communicate, IU defensive coordinator Doug Mallory said. It was just getting back to basics (against PSU). This is where you’re aligned. This is where your fits are.