John Niyo, Angelique S. Chengelis and Matt Charboneau preview the Michigan State vs. Indiana and Michigan vs. Nebraska games. The Detroit News
MICHIGAN STATE AT INDIANA
Kickoff: 7:30 p.m. Saturday, Memorial Stadium, Bloomington, Ind.
Records: No. 24 Michigan State 1-1, Indiana 3-0
Line: Michigan State by 4
View from the other side
Mike Miller, who covers Indiana for the Herald-Times, breaks down the Hoosiers for The Detroit News answering five questions heading into Saturday’s Indiana-Michigan State game. You can follow him on Twitter @MikeMillerHT.
1. How big of a surprise has Stevie Scott been? Can he continue to be effective in Big Ten play?
Miller: Scott flashed early in fall camp as a player to watch, but it wasn't clear how big of a role he would occupy. IU planned to open the season with at least two — arguably three — backs in front of him. But returning starter Morgan Ellison was suspended indefinitely leading into the season opener and Cole Gest suffered an ACL injury in that Week 1 win at Florida International, thinning the ranks. Mike Majette was listed as the starter entering the second game against Virginia, but he's been more effective as a pass blocker than anything else. So yes, Scott has been a pretty big surprise, especially when you consider Indiana considered having him begin his career as a linebacker, instead. I think he has the skill set, the strength and the patience to continue his initial success, though a lot of it will be determined on whether Indiana's offensive line can continue playing physical up front against the teeth of the schedule. The O-line has worked well across the past two games against Virginia and Ball State. But there's still more it needs to prove.
2. How much of an impact has Mike Hart been on the production from the running back spot?
Miller: Indiana wouldn't have landed Stevie Scott — or former four-star prospect Ronnie Walker — without him. Hart and Scott both hail from Syracuse, and Hart is a longtime family acquaintance of the Scott family. He's done an exceptional job in recruiting during his first year-plus at IU and that's reflective in the talent Indiana is lining up in the backfield. Walker was rated higher as a running back coming out of high school in Virginia, though it's taken him some time to figure out his responsibilities in the offense. He has better speed than Scott and demonstrated some impressive strength last week against Ball State, scoring from 18 yards out on his first collegiate carry. Hart replaced a very good coach/recruiter in Deland McCullough and so far is proving that he is similarly effective in that position.
3. Peyton Ramsey leads the Big Ten in completion percentage (.737). How much of a jump has he made from last season when he started four games?
Miller: Most of all, Ramsey looks more comfortable. He's not a flashy quarterback, but he's extremely efficient. That's visible both in his stats and through the way he operates the offense on the field. During a three-way competition for the starting job in fall camp, Ramsey was the most consistent option. Three games in, you're seeing that same player. This could be a very important game for Ramsey on Saturday. If IU struggles to run the ball, it will be up to him to make some things happen and shift from a game manager to a game winner. Of course, that will also require his receivers to win one-on-one battles where they occur. The one prevailing knock on Ramsey is whether he can consistently stretch — and stress — a defense downfield. He does so many other things well, and really has the trust and respect of virtually everyone in that locker room. But there will likely be an increased level of pressure to make plays that he may not have been asked to make up to this point.
4. Considering MSU lost its punter to injury two weeks ago, how important is return man J-Shun Harris II in this matchup?
Miller: Harris demonstrated last week that, after three ACL tears in as many years, he can still be a weapon at this level. He's a remarkable story in that sense. To go through that injury and rehabilitation three times and come out looking like this? It's not something many saw coming. Since the start of last season, he is second nationally with three punt return touchdowns and he's sixth in punt return yardage (377). With a little room, Harris is pretty much always a threat for a big return. Given Michigan State's situation, it'll be interesting to watch.
5. A defensive coach by trade, is Tom Allen starting to see the defensive performance he envisioned when taking over at Indiana?
Miller:The goal last year was to finish the season with a defense ranked inside the top 25. The Hoosiers finished at No. 27. Ever since Allen's arrival as defensive coordinator in 2016, Indiana's defense has been trending upward. Markedly so. IU lost eight starters to graduation, but also returned two of its top players (hybrid safety/linebacker Marcelino Ball and corner A'Shon Riggins) who missed most of last season due to injuries. IU's defense has made a habit of starting slow in games so far, but it's really settled in and showed the willingness and ability to adjust as the contest continues. Although IU's status as the No. 9 pass defense nationally is probably a bit skewed by the rainy game against Virginia, the secondary is legitimately deep and talented. IU's linebackers have been a bit inconsistent, though outside backer Reakwon Jones has done a really nice job filling in for former All-American Tegray Scales. There's a lot for IU to like so far, especially given the youth and inexperience on defense entering the season.
Players to watch
Stevie Scott, Fr, RB: The true freshman has burst onto the scene, taking advantage of suspensions and injuries in the Hoosiers’ backfield to pile up 388 yards in three games, including 204 rushing yards in a victory over Virginia. His 204 yards were the second-most for an Indiana freshman, coming just 3 yards from matching Anthony Thompson in 1986. He followed his performance against Virginia by running for 114 yards and two touchdowns last week against Ball State.
J-Shun Harris II, Sr., WR/PR: The fifth-year senior doesn’t play a huge role in the offense, but he’s one of the most electrifying punt returners in the nation. He took one back 86 yards for a touchdown last week, the third of his career, and is doing it all after coming back from a third ACL injury suffered late last season. He’s been named Big Ten Special Teams Player of the Week three times, and with MSU trotting out a backup QB as its punter, he could have a significant role against the Spartans.
Jonathan Crawford, Sr., S: The senior has started 41 games in his career and his nine career interceptions are first in the Big Ten and sixth nationally among active players. In the season opener against Florida International, Crawford had his fifth career game with multiple takeaways, forcing a fumble and returning an interception for a touchdown. The Hoosiers’ leading tackler this season with 15 stops, Crawford also has two tackles for loss, including a sack.
Facts and figures
Old Brass Spittoon: Since 1950, Michigan State and Indiana have been playing for the trophy that is believed to be nearly 190 years old. The Spartans are 46-13-1 since the teams started fighting for the Spittoon, having lost just once in the last nine meetings. Michigan State is 24-10-1 in games played in Bloomington, and 8-1 under coach Mark Dantonio.
Passing attack: Spartans quarterback Brian Lewerke is leading the Big Ten in passing yards per game at 300.5 yards and total offense (310 yards). He is also completing 69 percent of his passes (50-for-72) for 601 yards and three touchdowns despite throwing an interception in each of the first two games. The 314 yards he threw for against Arizona State were the fourth-best in his career.
Quick start: The Hoosiers enter the game looking for their seventh 4-0 start in program history. They were last unbeaten in the first four games in 2015, but before that it was back in 1990. To do so, Indiana will have to beat Michigan State in back-to-back home games for the first time since knocking off the Spartans in 1991 and 1993.