(EAST LANSING) - In year two, with no established starting quarterback, a rebuilding defense and some erratic receivers, Michigan State coach John L. Smith has decided to combat the Indiana Hoosiers with something he himself has faced all preseason; uncertainty.
Smith purposely did not name a starting quarterback, instead he wants to make the Indiana Hoosier coaching staff prepare for two quarterbacks instead of one. "That's something we want them to do. Both quarterbacks are going to go out and prepare [to start]."
While it appeared that sophmore Drew Stanton clearly established himself as "the guy" in the Spartans 31-24 loss to Notre Dame, Smith says that their is still a quarterback competition between Stanton and redshirt freshman Stephen Reaves. "Yes, and there's going to continue to be I believe [an open competition]. It may be - and we don't necessarily like the theory of doing it - but it maybe that both these kids play the entire year."
Smith said that Stanton was healthy enough to start last week's game but it was the coaching staff's decision not to start him. That was due in part to Stanton's knee, which requires draining after each game he plays. While citing him team's turnovers as "dumb", Smith said he felt the offense ran the ball better and that the offensive line is beginning to come together.
Smith also praised his defense and special teams which he said came to the field ready to play.
"It depends on which team shows up. They have gotten a bunch better. All eleven personnel which we prepared for offensively are back and starting this year, so they are an improved football team.
The coach also said that he has no idea what to expect from the crowd at Indiana. "Is it like going down to Ohio State? It can't be, it's pretty hostile going down there, Is it like going down to Michigan? It can't be."
WHEN INDIANA HAS THE BALL
One thing the Hoosier can do is score. IU (3rd in the Big Ten in scoring average 34.3) has put up 30 points in each of its contest this year, including 51-32 loss to Kentucky last week.
Roby totaled seven catches for 184 yards receiving and two touchdowns all career highs. Indiana also got help in the run game from sophomore BenJarvus Green-Ellis (3rd in the Big Ten 101 yards per game average) , a sophomore tailback from New Orleans.
Elliss rushed for 115 yards against the Wildcats last week. Those outburst were the first time that Indiana has had a 100 yard receiver and 100 yard rusher in the same week since 2002.
Michigan State's corners, particularly Jaren Hayes played very soft in the loss to Notre Dame. Hayes tended to stay well off the line of scrimmage and then backpeddle on the snap, allowing the Irish to play "pitch-and-catch" for much of the game. Maples played a little tighter. The Spartans need to get those corners up into bump-and-run coverage and allow their two all -Big Ten caliber safeties to help out on the deep balls.
MSU's defense has stiffen since the return of junior strong safety Eric Smith (44 tackles, 23 solos, 21 assists).
Smith's sure tackling and heady play has complimented senior Jason Harmon's adjustment at free safety. In reserve the Spartans have capable Greg Cooper.
The Green and White need to get pressure from Clifford Duke and Clifton Ryan from the edges. They further need for Kevin Vickerson and Brandon McKinney to stuff the inside run game so that MLB Ronald Stanley can do what he does best, make tackles. The defensive line didn't do a good job in that regard and Stanley found himself trying to fight off a guard while trying to make a tackle down field.
WHEN MICHIGAN STATE HAS THE BALL
While it is very possible that Stephen Reaves will start this ballgame, Drew Stanton is the better of the two. Smith appears to be trying to get Reaves as much playing time as possible so that he has a backup witth game experience. Ironically Reaves now has more playing time than Stanton. Still, Stanton is the 'straw that stirs the drink' and MSU elects to start Reaves, it won't be long before Stanton is in the game if the first unit falters.
Redshirt freshman Jehuu Caulcrick, 6-feet, 235-pounds, is beginning to assert himself and it doesn't appear to be far off to say he's emerging as the Spartans top rushing threat.
The "Big New Yorker" has rushed for 152 yards on just 30 carries (5.1 per carry average). Look for the Spartans to pound Caulcrick and likely starter Jason Teague to attempt to wear down an inexperienced Indiana defensive unit.
Michigan State would love to see another red letter day from Junior flanker Kyle Brown, who has vaulted to the top of the food chain among Spartan receivers.
Reaves clearly relies on Brown, while Stanton appears to favor Junior split end Matt Trannon. Junior Agim Shabaj was demoted after a poor performance against Notre Dame where he dropped three balls and ran a wrong route that caused an interception.
Senior Tight end Eric Knott joined Shabaj in Smith's doghouse after a poor blocking effort, plummeting to third string on the depth chart. Knott appears close to squandering what looked like a sure fire NFL career when he arrived in East Lansing from Detroit Henry Ford high school. Senior Jason Randall will get the start for the Spartans.
MSU will have to account for three playmakers on the Indiana defense, junior linebacker Kyle Killion, freshman corner Tracey Porter and senior safety Herana-daze Jones.
Porter opened the season against the Central Michigan by recording two interceptions in his first collegiate game including a 96-yard interception return for a touchdown in IU 40-6 win over the Chips. Killion led the Hoosiers with 10 tackles.
Killion and Jones each thwarted an Oregon comeback attempt with back-to-back interceptions on the Ducks last two possessions. Jones was named Big Ten Defensive Player of the Week after the effort where he totaled nine tackles and a fumble recovery. Killion led the Hoosiers with 13 tackles in the loss to Kentucky.
MSU has a slight edge when it comes to field position. Junior Brandon Fields ranks second in the NCAA in punting (42.1 per punt average). Senior kicker Dave Rayner struggled early but appears to have gotten back into a groove. Indiana had 123 kickoff return yards at Oregon, with 98 of them coming on a touchdown return by Lance Bennett. Kicker Bryan Robertson has connected on 16 straight field goals from 40-yards or under.
Michigan State appeared to get in gear against Notre Dame but was scuttled by turnovers. The Spartans ought to get that fixed and come away with a hard fought victory.
MICHIGAN STATE 27 - INDIANA 20