Michigan State's stout defense can expect a challenge from Indiana's fast-paced attack. (Dale G. Young / Detroit News)
East Lansing — It was nearly one year ago that Michigan State stood on the field at Memorial Stadium in Bloomington, Ind., not even one quarter into its matchup against Indiana, and it had few answers.
The Spartans’ heads were spinning as the Hoosiers rolled up 17 points faster than it takes some teams to get past midfield. Indiana ...
* Took 1 minute 17 seconds to score its first touchdown.
* Went 60 yards in 2:35 for a field goal.
* Went 80 yards in 2:04 for a touchdown.
“It was scary,” linebacker Max Bullough said as Michigan State prepares to host Indiana on Saturday. “We didn’t know what we were gonna do. That bubble screen, they were non-stop hitting it on us — 7, 8, 9 yards every time. It’s one of those plays that is tough on our defense and it’s something they do taking advantage of our linebacker alignment.”
Fortunately for Michigan State, the offense responded with a pair of touchdowns in the second quarter to help offset the 10 points Indiana added. That gave the defense enough time to gather itself and shut out the Hoosiers in the second half as the Spartans rallied for a 31-27 victory.
“Good offense, very well-coached football team,” Michigan State coach Mark Dantonio said of Indiana. “I think they bring a certain mind-set with them when they come.”
That mind-set is simple — move as quickly as possible.
“(They are) very simple in their approach in the things that they’re gonna run,” Spartans defensive line coach Ron Burton said.
“What puts the pressure on you is the time and the quickness of the throws, trying to get in and out of plays. I think that’s the key is their tempo. … The key is, after the play is over, getting back to home and ready to play.”
Through five games, the Hoosiers have the No. 1 offense in the Big Ten and have wasted very little time. In its 32 scoring drives — which includes 29 touchdowns — Indiana is averaging 5.9 plays in 1:43 while covering 60.7 yards.
In fact, the Hoosiers have 11 scoring drives that lasted less than 60 seconds and 17 that have lasted less than 90 seconds.
“We came out with some energy,” Indiana coach Kevin Wilson said of the Michigan State game last season.
“They brought it in the second half, made their adjustments and we didn’t. To me that’s why they’re a winning football program. They did the things you needed to come back and win a game. We have had a lot of opportunities; we were hoping to and trying to.”
The key for the Hoosiers will be making the most of those opportunities, while the focus for the Spartans will be eliminating the slow start. To combat the Hoosiers’ tempo, the defense will practice this week against two scout teams that will be running plays rapidly.
But even the most extensive preparation doesn’t change that the Spartans have been through this before.
“One thing that we do have, we have the experience at working against it from last year so our players know that it is real,” Dantonio said. “They’re not going to blink when they’re running a play at you every 10 seconds, so that simulates that aspect of it. But then the attention to detail and the technique that you use has to be consistent.”
Through its first five games, Michigan State’s technique has been consistent enough to be the top-ranked defense in the nation. It has also been very efficient on forcing teams to go three plays and out.
Get a team like that off the field and the pressure turns to the Indiana defense, one of the worst in the Big Ten.
“Possession time, we’re No. 1 in the conference,” Dantonio said of the Spartans’ 34 minutes of average possession time. “They’re somewhere in the 20s (25:36). So how do you equate that? I’m not sure, but our focus needs to be consistent to make plays, and to do that you need to execute.”
A look at where Indiana ranks in key offensive categories in the Big Ten:
|Yards per completion||14.7||1st|