Bloomington – In a game littered with big plays, it was a yellow flag that an official dropped on the field that ultimately did in the Hoosiers Saturday afternoon.
With Indiana trailing Michigan State 34-29 late in the third quarter, sophomore offensive lineman Cody Faulkner was flagged for holding in the end zone, wiping out a 97-yard touchdown pass from Ben Chappell to Terrance Turner. The official's call not only kept the Hoosiers from taking the lead for the first time since the first quarter, but resulted in a Spartan safety that extended the lead to seven.
Following the nine-point swing, Michigan State kicker Brett Swenson added two of his four field goals in the fourth quarter and the Spartans escaped with a 42-29 win over Indiana in both teams' Big Ten openers.
"I've never seen a play like that," IU Coach Bill Lynch said of the holding call. "I've been around football a long time, I've never seen a (97)-yard touchdown end up minus-two."
The Spartans (4-1) were led by tailback Javon Ringer, who carried 44 times for 198 yards and a touchdown, while MSU quarterback Brian Hoyer was 14-of-26 for 261 yards and two more scores. Indiana (2-2), meanwhile, was led by Marcus Thigpen who totaled 267 yards of total offense.
Faulkner's penalty was clearly the biggest play in a game that featured 970 yards of total offense, three touchdowns of 75 yards or more, two safeties, and plenty of surprises from the Hoosiers. For the first time this season, IU had both Kellen Lewis and Chappell in the game at the same time, a decision that seemed to kickstart an IU offense that struggled in last week's loss to Ball State.
Indiana went to the two-quarterback set early. After going three-and-out on its first series and spotting the Spartans a 3-0 lead, the Hoosiers went with both quarterbacks on the first four plays of the second series. Chappell completed three straight passes – including a couple of screens to Lewis – to get the drive going, and Lewis eventually completed an 8-yard pass to Ray Fisher to give IU a 7-3 lead.
"We felt it was time to do it," Lynch said of the dual-quarterback set. "It can give us something because they're both good football players…Kellen can make plays a in a lot of different ways, and Ben can handle the quarterback part of it."
Soon after that drive Lewis was forced to the sidelines with an ankle injury, and Michigan State quickly wrestled the momentum back with three consecutive scoring drives, the final one capped by a 14-yard pass from Hoyer to Mark Dell that opened a 20-7 lead.
But with Lewis sidelined, Indiana answered with a scoring drive of its own with Marcus Thigpen closing it out with a six-yard touchdown run.
At that point, the fireworks began. After Michigan State's ensuing drive stalled, IU's Jerimy Finch blocked a punt and Michigan State recovered in its own end zone for an IU safety, cutting the lead to 20-16 with 3:56 remaining in the quarter.
Indiana's excitement was short-lived, as the Spartans answered with a big play of its own. After IU went three-and-out, Hoyer hooked up with Charlie Gantt on an 82-yard touchdown with 1:29 remaining to extend the lead to 27-14.
But not to be out-done, the Hoosiers had their own answer, and once again it was Thigpen. In the final minute of the second quarter, the Hoosier tailback burst through a hole up the middle and raced 78 yards for a touchdown to close the margin to 27-22 heading into halftime.
The offenses didn't slow down in the third quarter, as both teams scored on their opening drives. Ringer scored on a one-yard run to open a 34-22 lead, but Lewis returned to the game after the intermission and hooked up with Thigpen for a 79-yard strike to cut the margin to 34-29.
It was the final big play for Thigpen, who ran for 113 yards on nine carries, had two receptions for 94 yards, and also returned three kickoffs for 60 yards.
While the holding call thwarted IU's hopes of recapturing the lead in the third quarter and Michigan State closed the Hoosiers out in the fourth quarter, it was still an encouraging effort to Lynch. Despite the absence of Chris Phillips, Nick Polk and Austin Thomas from the secondary and injuries suffered by Finch, Lewis and Andrew Means during the game, Indiana still managed to give itself a chance against an MSU team that had blitzed the Hoosiers 52-27 last year in East Lansing.
"We came out and fought, and played the game the way it's supposed to be played with enthusiasm and passion…that's the kind of football we want to play," Lynch said. "We might have lost the game but we found a football team. If we play like that, prepare like that and prepare with that kind of energy, we'll be alright."
Indiana – Thigpen 9-113, Lewis 7-26, Fisher 2-23, Payton 6-14, Chappell 2-7, McCray 2-6. Michigan State – Ringer 44-198, Cunningham 2-29, Leggett 1-6, Hoyer 2-5, Anderson 1-5, Martin 1-(-5).
Indiana - Lewis 21-12-1 177, Chappell 23-11-1 107. Michigan State – Hoyer 26-14-0 261.
Indiana – Thigpen 2-94, Belcher 4-73, Fisher 7-43, Dedmond 2-20, Lewis 2-17, Turner 2-14, Means 1-11, Payton 1-9, Martin 1-6, McCray 1-(-3). Michigan State – Gantt 2-92, Cunningham 2-41, Martin 3-31, White 1-27, Dell 2-25, Ringer 2-20, Delek 1-18, McPherson 1-7.