They have one thing in common - both teams are going in the wrong direction. The Hoosiers find themselves on a two-game skid. Big Ten doormat Illinois is the only team that both squads have recorded a conference victory against but despite that dubious distinction, both teams have weapons at their disposal, especially on offense. Those are the focus of this week's key matchups.
Hardy is the only player in the Big Ten averaging over 100 receiving yards a game (110.1 ypg) and he also has eight touchdowns, tops in the conference. He will be a handful to cover downfield on Saturday, but the defensive line of the Spartans can pressure quarterback Blake Powers to make some bad throws and prevent or at least contain Hardy for the game. Hardy specializes in the big play as he averages 16 yards per catch.
MSU JAVON RINGER VS. INDIANA LB JAMES PANNOZZO
As usual, establishing the running game will be vital for Michigan State. Javon Ringer has proven to be a very reliable running back in the Spartans offense this season, getting more carries (85) than fellow backs Jehuu Caulcrick(70) and Jason Teague(56).
Ringer has shown quickness and ability to break through holes as well as make big plays. He will be the assignment of Hoosier fullback turned linebacker John Pannozzo.
Pannozzo is in his first season at linebacker after playing fullback his first three years, so it will be interesting to see how the Spartans choose to face him. Pannozzo returned an Ohio State fumble 57 yards for a touchdown last week and he is no easy matchup against Ringer or Caulcrick and Teague.
"By design, they are going to throw it to run it. We need to make sure they aren't going to run it," said Indiana head coach Terry Hoeppner.
MICHIGAN STATE'S COACHES VS. INDIANA'S COACHES Both coaches have a situation where they are looking to rebound after losses after both teams started their years out strong.
Indiana opened the season by beating Central Michigan, Nicholls State and Kentucky for a solid early start. Michigan State also started out solid with wins against Hawaii and Kent State before upsetting #10 Notre Dame in South Bend.
They followed their huge win with a blowout at Illinois before having their 4-0 start evaporate quickly with consecutive losses to Michigan, Ohio State, and a resurgent Northwestern team ever since then.
Terry Hoeppner is in his first season as head coach of the Hoosiers and with a new coaching staff brings new expectations and confidence in the team. The Hoosiers are a young team, with their quarterback Blake Powers only being a sophomore and their best player, James Hardy, is only a freshman.
"When you have a different coaching staff come in, it does a lot to the players mindset as you've seen with Notre Dame and with us in 2003," said Clifton Ryan.
John L. Smith says that he is satisfied with the efforts of his two coordinators this season, which has been filled with mistakes especially in the three consecutive losses.
MSU'S SPECIAL TEAMS VS. INDIANA'S SPECIAL TEAMS
The Spartans kicking game remains a concern three weeks after John Goss's problems all started during the Michigan game. Goss missed two kicks, 47 and 37 yards in the first half. MSU announced this week that freshman kicker Matt Haughey would likely replace Goss as the starter.
The Spartan defense need to play stronger, and maintain their rush defense, which has been good all year. It's James Hardy that presents a problem, and if he is left alone, the Spartans will be prone to allowing big plays through the air all day.
The Big Ten conference title might be out of the picture, but a bowl game is a lock if MSU wins its remaining four games . It all starts Saturday with a Indiana Hoosiers team that has the same goals as the Spartans.