Indiana's physical ground game should challenge Michigan State

Matt Charboneau
The Detroit News
Running back Stevie Scott has been a beast for Indiana.

When a team took on Indiana in recent years, that usually meant getting ready to face an up-tempo offense that was prepared to sling the ball around the field.

Through three games this season, it appears the unbeaten Hoosiers are taking on a different identity, one more in line with head coach Tom Allen, a defensive coordinator by trade who prefers more of a physical game. Of course, that’s easier to do with the right personnel, and led by freshman running back Stevie Scott, the Hoosiers believe that they have that now in Allen’s third season.

“We have more play-makers on offense than we had I feel a year ago,” Allen said. “So there will be I think different games where different guys (play) based on how they're playing. Sometimes you don't even know that till the game starts.”

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What Indiana knows entering Saturday’s 7:30 p.m. kickoff against No. 24 Michigan State is its running game is far more effective than it has been in recent seasons. Through three games, the Hoosiers are averaging 235 yards a game on the ground after managing just 130.1 yards a game last season.

Much of the improvement is thanks to the emergence of Scott. In three games, Scott has run for 388 yards and three touchdowns. In a win over Virginia in Week 2, Scott gained 204 yards on 31 carries, coming just 3 yards shy of matching the program’s freshman record set by Anthony Thomas in 1986.

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“Any time you get 200 yards, you can’t say he did terrible,” Indiana running backs coach Mike Hart (Michigan) told reporters last week. “He’s just scratching the surface. He has a long way to go, and a lot more things to learn. We know he can run the ball, but he has to get better at everything else.”

If the early returns are any indication, Scott is making the most of his opportunity, one not many were sure would come this early. But with last year’s leading rusher, Morgan Ellison, suspended and Cole Gest suffering an ACL injury in the season-opener, Scott is taking off.

What’s more, the Hoosiers’ depth is starting to show as freshman Ronnie Walker, a former four-star recruit is starting to get some carries while senior Mike Majette brings experience to the backfield.

“You would like to spread it out,” Allen said. “(Scott and Walker) are two different types of backs in terms of skill set, size, what they bring to the table. We definitely have the objective of trying to bring Ronnie along, to get him ready. I was really glad to be able to see him out there (last week), do some good things.

“We'd like to be able to get as many guys. You can never have enough running backs. They always seem to get hit a lot, for sure. That's part of the position. The more we can have the better. Michael will continue be a part of it, all the guys in that group. Love to see Ronnie continue to develop, share that load with a whole group of guys so they can't key on any one of them.”

How much success Indiana has against Michigan State will depend how much the Hoosiers are willing to change things up. That’s because through two games, the Spartans have the best run defense in the nation, allowing just 34.5 yards a game.

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Where Michigan State has struggled in through the air, allowing more than 300 yards passing in each of the first two games and ranking last in the Big Ten.

“Each week it varies,” Allen said. “That will be something, whatever, we're going to take what they're giving us. That maybe run game-wise, pass game-wise. I believe we have the scheme and personnel to take advantage of it.”

Coming off the early bye and looking to open Big Ten play with a road victory, Michigan State (1-1) feels it is prepared to take on whatever Indiana brings to the table, despite the yardage it has allowed through the air.

As coach Mark Dantonio pointed out, the Spartans allowed just 16 points at Arizona State, enough to win most weeks. But each week offers its unique challenges.

“You have to be able to play up-tempo offense and be able to stop the run and be able to play against the controlled passing game, and then be able to play the deep ball down the field because most of the teams right now that you see are vertical attack teams,” Dantonio said. “They attack you vertically I think off the play-action or off the RPO-type things, or intermediate or short.

“You have to be able to tackle in space, come up with turnovers and got to play with great effort. … But I think every team is a little bit different in that respect. Some are going to go faster. Some are going to go slower. Some are going to have different things ready for you game-by-game, and I think that's the nature of most offenses.”

Twitter: @mattcharboneau

Michigan State at Indiana

Kickoff: 7:30 Saturday, Memorial Stadium, Bloomington, Ind.

TV/radio: BTN/760

Records: Michigan State 1-1, Indiana 3-0

Line: Michigan State by 4