On a day when the experienced playmakers were stymied, it was the young receivers who made the difference. Freshmen Cody White and Hunter Rison combined for four key receptions in the final quarter to help Michigan State rally past Indiana, 17-9.
Michigan State Escapes Indiana, 17-9
Spartans Offense Struggles For Three Quarters
The anemic offense frustrated Spartan Stadium all day. The Spartans averaged only 2.0 yards per carry. The offensive line started four underclassmen, and they looked young. LJ Scott was held out of the first series after his arrest during the week for driving with a suspended license, but even after he came in, he was stymied. Madre London caught the fumble bug from Scott, putting it on the ground in the first quarter and giving the Hoosiers the ball inside the MSU 20-yard line.
Brian Lewerke was not impressive on the day. He never truly got in rhythm, throwing for just 102 yards in the first three-and-a-half quarters. Indiana’s aggressive secondary largely shut down Felton Davis III and Darrell Stewart Jr., his top targets all season. The Hoosiers put eight in the box for most of the afternoon, essentially daring the Spartans to go deep, but they seemingly never obliged.
Schematically, the Spartans were creative. Offensive coordinator Dave Warner should be commended for his willingness to go to unusual formations and plays. These included multiple three-tight end play-action passes and a trick play involving freshman Connor Hayward throwing a halfback pass intended for Lewerke. Unfortunately, nothing clicked, and the Hoosiers’ confidence surged.
Bachie and Defense Avoid Disaster
The Spartans’ defense bowed up again and again Saturday afternoon, matching Indiana’s no-huddle attack play for play. Sophomore middle linebacker Joe Bachie totalled 13 tackles, including four solo tackles of Indiana QB Peyton Ramsey, taking away the quarterback dive. The Hoosiers’ commitment to the play was puzzling, as Ramsey only averaged 2.3 yards per carry.
Indiana’s only points in the first half came after London’s fumble, when the offense actually failed to pick up a single yard. While the Spartans’ front seven was stout, Indiana also got in their own way, committing six accepted offensive penalties that disrupted their ability to move the ball. The game reeked of retro Big Ten football, as the teams headed to the locker room tied at 3.
However, in the third quarter, Indiana began to find a bit of a tempo. On third and 12 from their own 11, Ramsey checked down to tailback Ricky Brookins, who barely stretched out as he was knocked out of bounds for the first down. Quickly, the Hoosiers were gashing Michigan State, getting down to the Spartans’ 24-yard line before the defense stiffened. Later, Indiana took advantage of good field position and drove into scoring position again to take a 9-3 lead. Spartan Stadium was quiet.
The Kids Are Alright
The Spartans faced a 3rd-and-19 from the Indiana 49 with 7:46 remaining. Lewerke evaded pressure and fired a strike across his body to White, the freshman from Novi, MI. White stretched but was tackled three yards shy of the sticks. Then on the pivotal fourth down, Hunter Rison evoked memories of his father Andre, stretching for the first down. Three plays later Davis III was all alone in the end zone to put the Spartans up for good, 10-9.
After an Indiana 3-and-out, the Spartans faced two more long third down conversions in their mission to run out the clock. First came Rison, getting just enough on a 3rd-and-9 to move the sticks. Then, White raced for 34 yards on a 3rd-and-10. LJ Scott was allowed by Indiana to score to keep it at one possession, 17-9.
Indiana had one last chance to tie the game, but MSU came with pressure, forcing Ramsey to throw the ball straight up in the air on fourth down for a turnover on downs.
The game was hard-fought, and MSU certainly did not play to their capacity on offense. The bottom line is that the Spartans are 6-1 and bowl eligible. After the nightmare that was last year, that can only be seen as a positive. The Spartans go back on the road in Evanston, Ill., facing Northwestern at 3:30 EST on ESPN on Saturday. It will be another tough test, but the day care center has passed every one they’ve had thus far.