Bloomington, Ind. – It's a make-or-break game in East Lansing this weekend.
For Indiana, it's about getting a win and making it to a bowl game bowl game for the first time since 1993. The 5-1 Hoosiers have a chance to capture that necessary sixth win much earlier in the season than many anticipated, and they have a chance to do it against a team they man-handled a year ago in Bloomington, 46-21.
For Michigan State, it's a game that could break their season if they don't emerge victorious. After a 4-0 start, Coach Mark Dantonio's team has dropped back-to-back game to Wisconsin and Northwestern and are in danger of having a once promising season disintegrate. With road games at Ohio State, Purdue and Iowa, along with home games against Penn State and Michigan, wins don't figure to be easy to come by over the season's final five weeks. A loss to Indiana could make it very difficult for the Spartans to avoid a fourth straight bowl-less season.
Michigan State fans are already clamoring about that possibility, as they've seen recent MSU squads start strong only to flounder late. Those late-season flops are why Spartan brass jettisoned John L. Smith's last off-season and turned things over to Dantonio, but this is still largely a team made up with players who've witnessed the meltdowns, and it's hard to imagine a degree of self-doubt has been floating around the Spartan locker room.
With that in mind, Indiana might be the team with more confidence about this game's outcome when these two teams square off at 7 p.m. Saturday. That's a huge difference from past seasons, when Indiana didn't expect to venture away from Bloomington and come away with a win. But Indiana has won both of its road games this season and four over the past 1 ½ seasons.
"A couple of years ago when I got here, there were so many doubters it was unreal," said wide receiver Andrew Means. "Now, the whole believes we're going to win. We're going onto the field at Iowa and we're all pumped up knowing we're going to win. A couple of years ago, we didn't think that way."
Fellow wide receiver Ray Fisher said this Indiana team actually enjoys playing on the road and having the opportunity to quiet a raucous crowd.
"Playing away for us is like playing at home," Fisher said. "It pumps us up to hear their crowd be quiet – that's a big motivation for us."
So will Indiana be able to quiet a night-time Spartan crowd that figures to be approaching 70,000? To do that, they'll need to slow down a MSU offense that averages 34.3 points per game and a running attack that averages a shade over 220 yards/outing. The Hoosiers chance at victory goes up dramatically if it can force Spartan quarterback Brian Hoyer to try to beat them through the air.
On the opposite side, Michigan State's challenge is going to be keeping Kellen Lewis under wraps. Lewis had a breakout effort against MSU a season ago, throwing for 261 yards and five touchdowns while rushing for another 75 yards and a TD in Indiana's 25-point win.
So who will get the job done? Personally, I see both defenses having long afternoons. Spartan tailback Javon Ringer will give IU fits with his big-play ability, and there's little reason to believe the Spartans' suspect secondary will be able to keep Lewis and James Hardy from having big afternoons.
Expect plenty of points, a lot of drama, and a game that comes down the final five minutes. I'll give Indiana the edge thanks to a better kicking game (Austin Starr is 12-13 on field goals while MSU kicker Brett Swenson is 6-10) and the best play-maker on the field in Lewis.
HoosierNation.com Prediction: Indiana 34, Michigan State 30
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 Match-Ups
On Friday – One Bold Prediction
MICHIGAN STATE: One Day and Counting
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