Defense looks to maintain momentum

Each time the Indiana defense has put together a good performance, it has fallen flat on its face the next game. Can it take advantage of an inconsistent Michigan State offense today in East Lansing?

Navy showcased an unusual style of offense. Missouri brought speed. Michigan State will present Indiana's most physical opponent yet.

When the Hoosiers travel to East Lansing for a noon meeting with the Spartans, the defense will be looking for its first back-to-back solid performances of the season. Consistency has been the biggest issue for the young and inexperienced unit, which will get a breather of sorts this week.

The Spartans have one of the Big Ten's worst offenses, but don't tell that to IU's defense. The focus remains on Michigan State' ability to create a push at the line of scrimmage.

"They're a very tough offense," junior defensive tackle Bobby Richardson said. "They don't back down. They like to come, they're very physical."

The Spartans' strength is without a doubt their defense. The unit has allowed just 13.4 points per game, lowest in the Big Ten. The offense has been, well, another story. Michigan State ranks 11th in the conference in points per game (28.2) and 10th in total offense (355 yards per game).

Indiana's players aren't biting. It's a Big Ten game on the road against a tough Spartans team. The Hoosiers have yet to prove good defensive performances aren't flukes.

"After we had our win against Indiana State and against Bowling Green we didn't come back the next week like we needed to," senior safety Greg Heban said. "So I just think it comes with being more confident and realizing that this is a Big Ten game and we compete with them and we play really well, so we've just got to build our self-confidence, build our self-esteem and go out there like we're capable of playing."

After struggling early against the run, the Hoosiers clamped down. Penn State finished with 70 yards rushing, though that figure was somewhat skewed by a loss of 31 on a botched Penn State punt. Still, it was Indiana's best performance against the run so far.

Stopping the run allowed Richardson, John Laihinen, Nick Mangieri and company to tee off on freshman quarterback Christian Hackenberg, who completed just 30-of-55 passes while facing constant pressure. It was a simple formula but one that worked.

The Hoosiers hope to do the same to another rookie QB in Michigan State's Connor Cook, who has completed 54 percent of his passes for 688 yards and seven touchdowns to one interception.

"I think we have a good matchup with them, our defense against their offense," Heban said. "He's definitely a little more mobile than Hackenberg. He's a good quarterback just like Hackenberg is. Just like we did against Penn State, he's a freshman and we kind of want to get after him, put him in tough situations if we can and kind of make him make the decisions."

Indiana will be going on the road for this first time after enjoying the luxuries of home for the first six weeks of the season. Might we find out who the real Hoosiers are in a less-than-friendly environment?

"It's a good experience going to Michigan State, it's going to be a hostile environment," said redshirt sophomore cornerback Michael Hunter. "It's a good experience to see how far our team's come this year so definitely it'll be something I'm looking forward to. I'm pretty sure the rest of my teammates are, too."

Some wanted to call Indiana's first ever win over Penn State a program-changing or program-defining win. The players, on the other hand, are focused on tempering that sentiment. It's what's gotten the team — and defense, specifically — in trouble before.

Indiana's defense needs another good performance, or else it will be put under the same intense scrutiny its faced for years.

"We knew that we were going to change history but we don't want to keep it on our head now, we don't want to think that we've arrived now," Richardson said. "We want to keep building off of this win."

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