Indiana got some much-needed confidence last Saturday with a history-making win against Penn State.
The Hoosiers will look to build on that and give the program its first 2-0 start in Big Ten play in more than two decades.
IU (3-2, 1-0) heads to East Lansing, Mich., for a noon kickoff today against Michigan State, a team that was winless at home last season during conference play and wants to buck that trend on its first try.
The Spartans (4-1, 1-0) are the antithesis of the Hoosiers. Michigan State thrives on its defensive prowess and defensive-minded coach Mark Dantonio. IU, and offensive guru Kevin Wilson, emphasize the opposite.
They may make some tweaks here and there with what their personnel is, but you kind of know what you’re going to get with Michigan State. They’re very good at what they do, IU offensive coordinator Seth Littrell said. When you play against a great defense like that, great coaches like that, hopefully you elevate your game and compete.
It will be a matchup between the deepest receiving corps in the Big Ten and Michigan State’s man-to-man press coverage. A middling IU run game will face a front line that gives up just 1.97 yards per rush attempt. Sophomore Nate Sudfeld will throw into a secondary that has held quarterbacks to a 41.4 percent completion rate.
The dichotomy comes with a caveat. Both teams came off bye weeks with convincing performances from their less-heralded units.
IU came into its game against Penn State with the worst run defense in the Big Ten and gave up just 120 yards on designed run plays. That led the Hoosiers to the program’s first win against the Nittany Lions.
Meanwhile, Michigan State starting quarterback Connor Cook threw for a career-high 277 yards and passed for two touchdowns in a 26-14 win over Iowa.
But today’s game will come down to the nation’s best defense taking on one of the best offenses in the country.
The rapid play calling and the execution by Indiana creates a situation where as a defensive football team you just can’t sustain, Dantonio said. There’s been a lot of good defense played here. We’ve just got to continue what we’re doing and try and answer the bell every week.
IU hasn’t opened Big Ten play at 2-0 since 1991, when Bill Mallory led the Hoosiers past Michigan State and Northwestern. The team went 7-4-1 that season and finished with a win in the Copper Bowl.
The 2013 edition of the Hoosiers is in a similar spot, with a bowl game ahead if IU can eke out three wins in Big Ten play.
We’ve been saying before we needed confidence, Wilson said. The more you win, the more confident you can be. Something’s got to come first.