Get Off To A Good First Quarter Start - The first quarter of Saturday's game will likely tell the tale of how this game is going to unfold.
Why? Because both teams are trying to recover from disappointing efforts and get their seasons back on track. In Michigan State's case, it's a three-game losing streak that has taken them from the nation's top 10 to eighth place in the Big Ten, a spot it shares with the Hoosiers at 1-3. As for Indiana, the Hoosiers suffered a confidence-shaking thumping at the hands of Ohio State, 41-10. Both teams need to turn the proverbial page, and the first couple of drives will likely tell if either team is still looking in its rear view mirror instead of focusing on the task, and opponent, at hand.
Indiana hasn't generally been a good first quarter team this year, getting outscored 45-31 in the first period this year. That includes a 38-14 edge for the Hoosiers' Big Ten opponents. Michigan State, meanwhile, has outscored its foes 76-49 in the first quarter, and the Spartans have trailed after the first quarter only once this year – against Michigan, 14-7, in a game eventually won by the Wolverines, 34-31.
While the scoreboard will certainly be the most telling item at the end of the first quarter, what Indiana's coaches want to see is the offense being able to move the ball, sustain drives, and avoid the three-and-outs that were rampant last weekend against Ohio State. While Indiana fell behind Iowa 14-0 early on two weeks ago, the team's confidence wasn't shaken because the Hoosiers were marching the ball up and down the field, but they had a couple of drives stall at the Iowa 29.
Be Proficient On Third Downs - Indiana's coaches know exactly how good the Michigan State offense is – it's ranked third nationally in total offense (538.3/game), 12th in scoring (37.9), 14th in rushing (223.9) and 12th in passing (314.4). The Drew Stanton-led group piled up a staggering 705 yards in a 61-14 win over Illinois, and perhaps even more impressive was the 456 yards it compiled against Ohio State in a 35-24 loss.
The Hoosiers' best defense against the Spartans will be a good offense – one that controls the ball with the same sort of efficient passing attack that was so successful at Iowa. To be able to do that, Indiana will need to be able to move the chains on 3rd down. That's what Indiana did at Iowa, when it converted 15-of-26 3rd downs, which enabled it to control the ball for 40:09. While the end result wasn't an IU win, it did give the Hoosiers a chance in the fourth quarter, which is all the Hoosiers are hoping for when they go into a hostile Big Ten environment like Iowa City or East Lansing.
Of course, to be efficient on third downs means you have to avoid putting yourself in 3rd and longs as well. One of the reasons IU was so successful on 3rd downs against Iowa was because it consistently found itself in 3rd-and-short situations, which gave Coach Terry Hoeppner and Offensive Coordinator Bill Lynch full use of the playbook to try to move the chains. If Blake Powers is instead having to try to force the ball downfield on 3rd-and-10, Saturday's outcome could wind up being eerily similar to the Ohio State contest.
What's coming up:
On Monday – Five Numbers to Note
On Tuesday - Four Key Matchups
On Wednesday – Three Big Concerns
On Thursday – Two Things IU Must Do to Win
On Friday – One Bold Prediction
On Saturday – Hoosier Gameday
Two Days and Counting...
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