It’s difficult to consistently make defense stops when the offense can’t stay on the field.
In 15 offensive drives, the Hoosiers averaged just 3.5 plays per drive, while only holding the ball for one minute and 22 seconds per series, giving the defense little rest. The longest drive for the Indiana offense was six plays and lasted two minutes and 51 seconds, which wasn’t even until the fourth quarter when the game was already out of reach.
The time of possession was dominated by the Spartans, as they held the ball for 39 minutes and 24 seconds, nearly doubling Indiana’s mark of 20 minutes and 36 seconds. While Indiana only had 49 offensive plays, Michigan State ran 83 plays, totaling 662 offensive yards, while finding a great balance gaining 332 yards through the air and 330 yards on the ground. The Spartans managed the clock with long drives, earning 30 first downs while converting 10-of-16 third downs.
“I thought in the first quarter, quarter and a half, we were playing good, aggressive football,” Indiana Head Coach Kevin Wilson said after the game. “As the offense didn’t execute, the defense got tired, they wore us out in that great second half.”
“I think we were just on the field a lot and we got worn down,” linebacker T.J. Simmons said. “They had some good plays that we had trouble fitting, but we just have to adjust and fix it.”
The first quarter started out rocky for the Indiana defense, giving up 185 yards of offense and two touchdowns in the opening three drives. After Shane Wynn scored on a 75-yard reverse to make it a 14-10 game early in the second quarter, Indiana’s defense forced two straight three-and-outs.
On the next Michigan State possession, freshman linebacker Tegray Scales intercepted Spartan quarterback Connor Cook, putting Indiana on the Michigan State 39-yard line and leading to a touchdown that gave Indiana a 17-14 lead with 5:55 left in the first half.
“The quarterback locked on to his receiver,” Scales said. “I read the quarterback, dropped into the zone and got the pick.”
Indiana had all the momentum at that point, but on the second play of the following Spartan drive, true freshman cornerback Donovan Clark gambled on a comeback route by Michigan State tight end Josiah Price. Clark attempted to step in front of Price to get an interception, but Price came down with the ball and took it 67 yards to the Indiana eight-yard line, which led to a Spartan touchdown.
“As a young player, he’ll learn from that,” Wilson said. “To say he’s wrong, we didn’t fault him on that. We’re trying to build some confidence and aggressiveness. I think you start questioning a kid for going after it, you get them playing on their heels.
“If you miss, you miss. Maybe he needs to be in better position. Catch and tackle, catch and tackle. If we swing and miss, it’s better than not swinging at all.”
That play quieted a rowdy Indiana crowd and successfully turned the tide toward the Spartans. From there, Michigan State scored 42 unanswered points, scoring on six of its next eight drives and totaling 468 yards.
“We knew what they were going to do, and we attacked our game plan, but in the second half things just didn’t go our way,” Scales said. “We had pressure on the quarterback, but they just made big plays. We’ve just got to look at film and get it corrected.”