Rushing Offense - B
After getting virtually nothing from the ground game in losses to Iowa and Ohio State, the Hoosiers bounced back with 137 yards against a Michigan State defense that was ranked third in the Big Ten against the run. Probably more significant than the sheer numbers is the fact Indiana averaged a more-than-respectable 4.4 yards/carry on its 31 carries. That's an average that IU has been exceeded only once this year (IU averaged 5.1 yards/carry in its 38-14 win over Kentucky).
Credit goes to both the offensive line and the play of tailbacks Chris Taylor and Yamar Washington. Both of Indiana's tailbacks appeared to run as hard as they have all year, often delivering blows to would-be tacklers and picking up an additional yard or two at the end of runs. As for the offensive line, some changes obviously sparked the front five. Indiana inserted Scott Anderson at right tackle and had Justin Frye spending time at both right guard and center, while Chris Mangiero spent time at both center and guard Saturday.
Indiana's front five went up against a Spartan front four that had a pair of run-stuffing, 320-pound plus defensive tackles, yet Indiana was still able to produce positive yards on the ground. In fact, tailbacks Washington, Taylor and Josiah Sears combined for 23 carries, and only once was one dropped for a loss.
The biggest thing that held the IU ground game in check was the scoreboard. After Indiana landed itself in a 17-point halftime hole, its ability to try to maintain an offensive balance went by the wayside. Once Michigan State's lead ballooned to 32-8 midway through the third quarter, Blake Powers was forced to throw on just about every down.
While 137 yards and 4.4 yards/carry average won't garner headlines, it's the sort of success that would go a long way in preventing Minnesota from focusing entirely on stopping IU's passing game this coming weekend.
Notable Stat: Indiana's 4.4 yards/carry marked just the third time IU has averaged more than four yards/carry this season. Indiana averaged 5.1 against Kentucky and 4.4 against Illinois. Indiana averaged 3.8 yards/carry against Wisconsin; 3.3 yards/carry against Nicholls State; 2.4 yards/carry against Central Michigan; 2.0 yards/carry against Iowa; and 1.6 yards/carry against Ohio State.
Passing Offense – C-
Indiana threw for 232 yards and a pair of touchdowns against Michigan State, but the passing game also produced four turnovers, something that was too much for Indiana to overcome in East Lansing.
The two most costly turnovers came early in the second half, when Indiana had a pair of chances to cut into a 25-8 Michigan State lead. But a questionable Blake Powers' interception at the Michigan State 22-yard line ended one drive, and a Jahkeen Gilmore fumble at the Michigan State 24-yard line ended the next march deep into Spartan territory.
After throwing 20 touchdowns and only seven interceptions in Indiana's first six games, Powers has found the end zone only once in the last two weeks and has been picked off four times. Probably his worst throw of the day was a throw from the MSU one-yard line that was picked off by Otis Wiley. Powers faked the dive into the end zone and then tried to loft the ball to tight end Matt O'Neal, but Wiley was blanketing O'Neal and came away with the easy interception. It's a throw that IU Coach Terry Hoeppner said afterwards has to be thrown out of the back of the end zone if the tight end isn't wide open.
While Powers had a tough day, the same goes for IU's wideouts. Jahkeen Gilmore and James Bailey dropped balls that would have been touchdowns on successive plays late in the second quarter. Indiana is also struggling to find a way to get Marcus Thigpen involved in the passing game, as he was held to just one catch for 21 yards. Thigpen has only 19 catches in eight games, and he has only nine receptions for a combined 84 yards in IU's last four games.
Notable Stat:One positive was the production of James Hardy, who had eight catches for 77 yards and a pair of touchdowns. Hardy leads the Big Ten in receiving yards (848), receiving yards/game (106.0) and receiving touchdowns (10).
Rushing Defense – F
It wasn't the 237 rushing yards and three touchdowns that stood out so much on Saturday. Instead, it was the inability of IU's defenders to wrap up Spartan ball carriers after the first, and occasionally second or third, contact.
There were numerous times Spartan tailback Javon Ringer escaped from the grasp of a handful of IU defenders to produce big plays. The most glaring example was Javon Ringer's 45-yard, third-quarter touchdown run when at least three Hoosiers should have brought him down before he crossed the goal line. Ringer wound up with 109 yards on just 11 carries (9.9 yards/carry). Five of Ringer's 11 carries went for double-digit yards, with runs of 19, 13, 45, 15 and 15 yards to his credit.
Ringer wasn't the only one to have his way with the IU defense, though. Jehuu Caulcrick had 59 yards on 10 carries, and quarterback Drew Stanton was able to hurt the Hoosier defense with his ability to run as well. Stanton actually ran over IU outside linebacker Geno Johnson on his one-yard touchdown run at the start of the second quarter when the two met at the goal line.
It would probably be easier for the IU defensive coaches to accept if Michigan State's offensive line was simply too much for the Hoosier defense, but Indiana was far from manhandled. Instead, Indiana missed and missed again when it had chances to stop the Spartans in their tracks.
Notable Stats:Indiana has slipped to ninth in the Big Ten against the run, surrendering 188.1 yards/game. Indiana is also giving up 4.7 yards/carry and has yielded 15 rushing touchdowns, numbers that also rank ninth in the conference.
Pass Defense – D+
Drew Stanton didn't have to put up huge numbers thanks to the success of the Spartan running game, but he still wound up with 244 yards and a pair of touchdowns on 17-of-31 passing. Indiana really struggled early on getting off the field when it had Stanton and the Spartan offense in third and long situations. In the first half, Stanton moved the chains 4-of-6 times when faced with 3rd and longs. He was 4-of-6 for 61 yards on those four plays.
One thing Indiana did have a little more success with Saturday was pressuring the quarterback. Kyle Killion forced Stanton into a grounding call that resulted in a safety in the first quarter, and both Victor Adeyanju and Charlie Emerson had sacks as well. There were also a couple of other occasions where Indiana's pressure forced Stanton to throw the ball away to avoid a negative play.
When Stanton did have time to throw, though, he was able to pick the IU secondary apart. His 17 completions were thrown to eight different receivers, with Kerry Reed leading the way with six catches for 80 yards and a touchdown.
Special Teams –F
Terry Hoeppner said afterwards that his team continues to find ways to make mistakes in the kicking game, and it hurt in a big way on Saturday.
The Hoosier special teams gave up nine points in the first half, as Michigan State returned the opening kickoff for a touchdown and also blocked an IU extra point and returned it for a two-point conversion. Hoeppner said afterwards that Austin Starr was supposed to direct the opening kickoff to the corner of the field instead of directly down the middle, but that still doesn't excuse the team's inability to get a hand on Demond Williams during his 98-yard touchdown return.
The botched special teams' plays not only cost Indiana points on the scoreboard, but critical momentum as well. The opening kickoff provided a huge lift for an MSU team that was looking for something good to happen after three straight losses. Williams' blocked extra point and Ashton Watson's subsequent return for a two-point conversion wiped out any momentum Indiana might have had heading into halftime.
Beyond those big plays, Indiana didn't get much from punter Tyson Beattie (averaged 35.5 yards on six punts, including a pair of shanks). Lance Bennett had a 41-yard kickoff return in the first quarter, but he averaged only 17 yards on his other six kickoff returns.
Overall – D
Indiana's tackling and its special teams plays was porous, but the offense was at least able to move the ball, unlike a week ago against Ohio State. Of course, turnovers in and near the red zone did away with any chance for the Hoosiers to pull off the upset, but the 371 yards of offense Indiana produced is a much better sign than the 137 it produced in the 41-10 loss to Ohio State.
The biggest challenge facing the coaching staff is how the team's struggles are a moving target. One week, it's the inability to get anything going on the ground. The next week, it's struggles in the secondary. This week, it was tackling, turnovers and special teams play that gave the staff a collective headache.
After six straight weeks of more positives than negatives, Saturday's effort in East Lansing marked the second straight week that Indiana had a whole lot more bad than good unfolding on the field. With the team needing two wins in its final three games, Indiana must turn its fortunes around in a hurry if it expects to have any chance to fulfilling its goal of playing 12 games.
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