If Indiana is going to win Saturday in East Lansing, it's going to have to turn in its best offensive effort of the season. Anything less won't be enough to upset the Spartans in Spartan Stadium.
Despite the three straight losses, it's probably a bit naïve to think the Indiana defense can shut down one of the nation's most productive offenses. Michigan State averages nearly 540 yards of offense per game, and during the three-game skid, the Spartans have still piled up at least 455 yards of total offense in each of those three losses. That includes a 456-yard effort against the Big Ten's top-ranked defense (Ohio State) and a 480-yard afternoon against the Big Ten's third-ranked defense (Michigan).
It's also probably a bit naïve to think that the three straight losses suggest Coach John L. Smith's team is in the proverbial tank. Michigan State had chances to win in losses to Michigan and Ohio State, and the 49-14 loss last week to Northwestern was the only real "clunker" it has turned in. With the possibility of back-to-back seasons without a bowl invitation now staring Michigan State in the face if it loses to the Hoosiers, it's a good bet that Michigan State will rid itself of the turnovers that plagued them a week ago and once again put plenty of points on the board.
If that's the bad news, the good news is there will be plenty of opportunities for the IU offense to put points on the board. Michigan State ranks ninth in the league in pass defense (286.9 yards/game) and opponents are completing nearly 62 percent of their passes. Northwestern's Brett Basanez completed 24-of-30 passes for 331 yards a week ago, while Ohio State's Troy Smith threw for 249 yards on 10-of-15 passing two weeks ago. The Ohio State game included three touchdown passes of at least 45 yards.
Indiana wideouts James Hardy, Jahkeen Gilmore, Marcus Thigpen and James Bailey will also get a bit of reprieve this weekend when it lines up opposite a trio of undersized cornerbacks. Both Demond Williams and Jaren Hayes stand only 5-9, while 5-11, 189-pound Ashton Watson is the biggest corner who will see the field Saturday. Michigan State might also try to use outside linebacker SirDarean Adams to cover IU's slot receiver as well, which could open some opportunities for big plays if IU's slot can get some separation. They've been arguably the biggest weakness for the Spartans this season, which is good news for an Indiana offense that could throws the ball 40-50 times.
Indiana might find it difficult to run the ball once again, but that's not a make-or-break proposition against the Spartans. Expect MSU to give the IU wideouts plenty of cushion to avoid getting beat for big plays, so Indiana should be able to move the ball with plenty of sideline passes and other intermediate routes much as it did at Iowa two weeks ago.
I still think for Indiana to win this weekend, Blake Powers needs to have a Big Ten Player-of-the-Week caliber performance Saturday. It's a possibility, but perhaps not a probability.
HoosierNation.com Prediction: Michigan State 38, Indiana 28
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
One Day and Counting...
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