What to expect from Michigan State? There's very little one can count on when it comes to the 4-4 Spartans. Whether it's effort or execution, Coach John L. Smith's team has long been college football's version of Jekyl and Hyde.
One would generally surmise that a team coming off a 41-38 record-setting comeback win at Northwestern would respond with a renewed interest in its season, but…this is Michigan State. It's a team that's gone 9-17 after Oct. 1 since Smith took over in 2003, a squad that has suffered plenty of inexplicable meltdowns in recent years.
With that said, Michigan State is rarely lacking in talent. They generally have the weaponry to beat just about anyone on their schedule, and this year is no different with quarterback Drew Stanton leading the way. Injuries to tailback Javon Ringer and wide receiver Matt Trannon have set back the offense, but there's still plenty of firepower at Smith's disposal.
One cause for concern for the IU staff is that in recent years Michigan State has found a way to regroup from its late-season tailspins to handle the Hoosiers with relative ease. A year ago, the only win in the Spartans' 1-6 finish to the season was a 46-15 pasting of the Hoosiers in East Lansing, and in 2002 another 1-6 finish was interrupted by only a 56-21 pounding of the Hoosiers in Bloomington.
Can IU Keep Stanton Under Wraps? The biggest dual threat quarterback in college football is Ohio State's Troy Smith, and IU's own Kellen Lewis is getting plenty of attention for his ability to give defenses fits with his ability to throw it or take off running with it. But Drew Stanton is equally adept of making plays through the air or on the ground.
Stanton ranks third in the Big Ten in total offense, producing 233.5 yards/game. That includes 301 rushing yards, a total that easily outdistances IU's leading ground gainer on the year, Josiah Sears (225). Stanton had a 134-yard rushing effort the last time Michigan State came to Bloomington, leading the Spartans to a 30-20 victory in 2004.
It's imperative that IU keep Stanton in the pocket when he drops back to throw, and when he takes off on designed runs the Hoosier defense needs to keep him from getting the Spartan ground game untracked. The Hoosier defense figures to get its fair share of cracks at Stanton, considering the fact Michigan State ranks ninth in the Big Ten with 18 sacks surrendered.
Be Efficient in the Red Zone - Indiana has a solid success rate with its red zone offense, producing points 21-of-24 times. Fourteen of those trips have resulted in touchdowns, while seven more have ended with Austin Starr field goals.
This weekend's game figures to be a pretty wide-open, high-scoring contest (MSU ranks ninth in the Big Ten in scoring defense at 28.8, while IU is 11th at 31.0), so the Hoosiers need to put touchdowns on the board instead of field goals when they get deep inside MSU territory. Fortunately for the Hoosiers Michigan State has been generous with its red zone defense, yielding points 26-of-28 times, including 18 touchdowns.
Red zone offense often relies on a team's ability to run the ball with the shortened field, but that's not necessarily the case against MSU. Smith's team has given up a Big Ten-worst 13 touchdown passes in the red zone.
What's coming up:
On Monday – Five Numbers to Note
On Tuesday - Four Players to Know
On Wednesday – Three Big Concerns
On Thursday – Two Key Matchups
On Friday – One Bold Prediction
Three Days and Counting...
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