Every week I will try to do a quick Q&A session with a beat writer from the opposing team. This week it's Mike Wilson, the site publisher for the Michigan State Scout.com site.
Here's the result of that Q&A:
Hutchens: 1. Just how good is this Michigan State team compared to the one that had the big second half rally in Bloomington last year to escape with a 31-27 win?
Wilson:"This team is better in just about every facet of the game – even defensively. The only steps down are positions at tight end and running back. The offense is where you have started to see improvement, though, and that is where it was most necessary. Connor Cook has shown he can be an upgrade over Andrew Maxwell and made great strides last week at Iowa. The wide receivers all returned and have started playing with much more confidence of late. I think it is a different team, but a better team. The defense also is much faster than it was last season, but maintains its physical nature.''
Hutchens: 2. We all know that Michigan State has had sick defensive statistics, especially against the pass. Is that because teams haven't passed on them a lot or is it because the Spartans are that good in the defensive secondary?
Wilson:"What is interesting about the MSU defense is they want opponents to pass the ball. They load up the box and shut down the run and put their cornerbacks on an island to cover man to man. They expect greatness from its secondary and challenge those guys game in and game out – and they perform well. Teams do pass on MSU because the run game, the Spartans allow a little more than 50 yards per game. Indiana will challenge the MSU secondary, though, as they like the quick passes to get their guys in space and that's what hurt MSU last year with how they play their linebackers close to the line of scrimmage.''
Hutchens: 3. Offensively, what has been Michigan State's biggest struggle this year? No rusher in the Big Ten's top 10 which is very un-Michigan State like but a really high time of possession. Have the Spartans simply just done enough to win games?
Wilson:"Not having a running back in the top 10 is partly due to the running back by committee approach that MSU has taken this year, and the high time of possession is in part due to the inability to move the ball in big chunks for most games resulting in lengthy drives. The biggest struggle so far has been consistency in the passing game, but like I said earlier, the Iowa game started to show a lot of strides in that area. Mostly, the MSU offense understands and believes it needs to score about three touchdowns per game to have a good shot at winning every game with the way the defense plays, so in a sense it is doing just enough, but they expect more and the Iowa victory gave them some confidence moving forward.''
Hutchens: 4. What do you see as the most intriguing match up on either side of the ball heading into Saturday's IU-Michigan State game?
Wilson:"The MSU front seven vs. the up-tempo Indiana offense is the most intriguing to me. I think the matchup there is different because MSU likes to rotate its defensive tackles a lot, but won't be able to do so and that hindered the Spartans last season. That has the been a lot of the talk around the program this week is preparing MSU's defense, which is physical and smash mouth, to play more speed and up-tempo instead of line up and smash.''
Hutchens: 5. What do you think will be the final score Saturday and what do you think will be Michigan State's final record for the 2013 season?
Wilson:" I think MSU is more prepared for the IU offense this season, which makes it hard for me to see MSU losing. Throw in the way the offense played last week against a tough Iowa team on the road and IU going on the road for the first time, I think MSU wins 34-24. I still think there are tests for MSU after this matchup and think 9-3 remains a reasonable expectation for the team – if the offense continues to make strides. If it doesn't, well, gulp.''
Hutchens:I'm going to go with Michigan State in this one as well but I think IU will score 38. I'm going to go with Michigan State 41, Indiana 28. Thanks for doing this.
Follow Terry Hutchens at Twitter.com/Foxsportshutch.