Michigan State looks exactly the same to Indiana coach Tom Allen.
The offense is big, strong and fast. The defense is tough and stout. And yes, the 24th-ranked Spartans again appear to be a legitimate Big Ten contender.
To Allen, that makes today's Big Ten opener a perfect test as the Hoosiers try to show they are on track.
“The expectation is we've got to score touchdowns when we get down there (the red zone). You don't beat a team like this kicking field goals,” Allen said. “We've got to play great defense. They have big old backs, big receivers, a really good quarterback, a big old offensive line.”
Allen learned some of those lessons during his first two seasons in Bloomington.
Last year, when the Hoosiers failed to score touchdowns they blew a fourth-quarter lead and wound up losing 17-9 to the Spartans.
In 2016, when Allen was Indiana's defensive coordinator, the Hoosiers walked away with a 24-21 victory and the Old Brass Spittoon – the only time Mark Dantonio has lost the trophy since becoming Michigan State's coach.
This year could be different for the Hoosiers (3-0). They're coming off their most complete game of the season and are one win away from their second 4-0 start since 1991. Michigan State (1-1), meanwhile, barely got past Utah State in the opener and has had two weeks to fix the flaws from a loss at Arizona State.
“I think our players have had an opportunity to sit on this and dwell on this a little bit,” Dantonio said. “They have also had time to step away from football for a day or so. You know, I'm looking forward to watching our players play on Saturday night.”
The Spartans understand what's at stake.
With quarterback Peyton Ramsey and freshman running back Stevie Scott leading the way, Indiana brings a more balanced attack to the game than it has in the past against Michigan State. The Hoosiers' young defense has improved steadily.
Now comes a big prime-time test for both teams.
“We sort of put that on the radar that it would probably be at night and knew this was going to be a big game for us,” Dantonio said. “So we needed to be ready for this game. We put a lot into this, into how we have orchestrated our calendar and what we've tried do and it's important that we play well.”
The Old Brass Spittoon might not be the Stanley Cup, the Borg-Warner Trophy or the Lombardi Trophy. But it's been a coveted prize in this series since it was first awarded in 1950. And, while the Hoosiers haven't talked much about how they celebrate with the trophy, Dantonio drew laughs when he explained the Spartans routine.
“We spit in it,” Dantonio said.
He's not kidding.
“I've spit in it a couple times – had the opportunity after a game to do that. So that's fun,” quarterback Brian Lewerke said. “It's a very interesting trophy. It's a little beat up now, but it's something we take pride in.”
Indiana vs. Michigan State
When: 7:30 p.m. today
Where: Memorial Stadium, Bloomington
TV: Big Ten Network
Radio: 1250 AM