Mike Wilson: Indiana gave Michigan State trouble last season early with its fast-paced offense. What has been the key to the offensive success early this year that has the team averaging about 44 points per game? Can the Hoosiers provide the same challenges for MSU in this matchup?
Terry Hutchens: The key for Indiana is simply that it has a really talented group of wide receivers that can beat you in a lot of ways. It has speed guys like Shane Wynn, Cody Latimer and Nick Stoner. It has receivers that are more of the possession variety like Kofi Hughes and it has a big tight end target in Ted Bolser who has been an effective weapon. The challenge for IU has been the running game and maintaining any kind of consistency there. Tevin Coleman is the featured back and Stephen Houston also gets some carries. Those guys have been up and down all season. In a game like this, against a good Michigan State rush defense, my guess is those guys will be neutralized and IU will be put in a lot of predictable passing situations. I would look for IU to use the short passing game to the running backs more than a conventional running game. That it, as long as Nate Sudfeld is at quarterback. When IU wants to run it more it often inserts dual threat QB Tre Roberson into the game. I could see that as part of the game plan this week. But this team has scored at least 28 points on every opponent this season and my guess is that it will be in the 20 plus range for this one, too.
Wilson: The Hoosiers easily have the best passing attack in the conference statistically and a bevy of weapons with guys like Kofi Hughes and Shane Wynn, who gave MSU trouble last year. Michigan State relies on its corners to be one-on-one outside. How do you see that battle unfolding Saturday?
Hutchens: I think that will be the make or break for Indiana. The question will be whether the IU offensive line can give Nate Sudfeld the time to make his proper reads. With time, and as good of offensive personnel as Sudfeld has at his disposal I think IU can make plays. But it's a banged up unit up front and Sudfeld has made some poor decisions at times this year when under pressure. The one thing I will tell you about this team compared to last year's team is that the quarterback, Sudfeld, is a significant upgrade over last year's QB Cam Coffman. Coffman is now No. 3 on the depth chart. Sudfeld is bigger, has more of a presence in the pocket and is very confident.
Wilson: While the offense puts up a lot of yards, the defense allows a lot of yards to opponents, too, and Michigan State is coming off its best offensive performance of the year on the road against Iowa. With the Spartans looking to run the ball often and a struggling IU run defense, can the front seven do enough to slow the MSU ground game?
Hutchens: This is always the million dollar question with Indiana. Can the defense stop anybody? It did not against Navy and Missouri. It did against Bowling Green and Penn State. The Hoosiers limited Penn State to under 100 yards rushing. The question then becomes how good of a rushing attack does Michigan State have? The numbers aren't particularly eye-catching but based on past history my guess is that the Spartans will be able to run the ball effectively. But to call IU's run defense for the most part "struggling" is kind. IU has given up an average of over 200 yards on the ground per game and in at least one game did not force a single punt. This will be the side of the ball for Indiana where the final outcome is best determined.
Wilson: I have been impressed with Kevin Wilson and what he is doing so far in Bloomington. How much of a role are young players that he has recruited factoring into the team early this year? MSU fans will be familiar with the name Antonio Allen, as the Spartans recruited him hard.
Hutchens: IU plays nine true freshmen pretty regularly and most of those are on the defensive side of the ball. T.J. Simmons is a true freshman that starts at middle linebacker. Antonio Allen is listed as No. 2 at one of the safety spots but he plays a great deal. Big hitter as MSU fans may remember was his reputation. IU has a total of 21 redshirt sophomores or younger in the two-deep so there's no questioning that Wilson has tried to bring the young players along. But to specifically answer your question, the freshmen are clearly making an early impact at IU.
Wilson: With both teams coming off big confidence-boosting wins, what do you think the most important thing will be for the Hoosiers to come out of East Lansing with a win?
Hutchens: Somehow establish some balance between the run and pass and not make it so Michigan State will see blood in the water and be able to go after Sudfeld in the passing game. And then find a way to slow down the Spartans on the other side of the ball. Anytime IU plays you expect a high scoring affair both because Indiana can score and often times the defense has trouble slowing people. I would look for a 35-21 kind of outcome in this one with Michigan State coming out on top.