View from the other side: Michigan State vs. Indiana

Matt Charboneau
The Detroit News

Indiana at Michigan State

Kickoff: 3:30 Saturday, Spartan Stadium, East Lansing

TV/radio: Big Ten Network/760 AM

Records: Indiana 3-1, 0-1 Big Ten; No. 25 Michigan State 3-1, 1-0

Line: Michigan State by 14

Quarterback Peyton Ramsey has started the last two games for Indiana, replacing  the injured Michael Penix Jr.

View from the other side

Jon Blau covers Indiana for the Bloomington Herald Times. He breaks down the Hoosiers for The Detroit News, answering five questions heading into Saturday’s Michigan State-Indiana game at Spartan Stadium. You can follow him on Twitter at @Jon_Blau

Question: The quarterback spot is up in the air, but who is the better option for IU: Peyton Ramsey or Michael Penix Jr.?

Blau: That's an interesting question, especially considering Penix missed his first shot to start against a Big Ten opponent in Ohio State. Sitting two games with an undisclosed injury, then coming off the bench in East Lansing, could be a tall task. Ramsey, of course, played in these kinds of environments as IU's starter last season.

On the other hand, IU named Penix the starter for a reason. His arm strength is just better than Ramsey's. He opens up parts of the playbook that just aren't as easy to execute with Ramsey behind center. Against a Michigan State defense that is so good at stopping the run, a few big plays over the top could be the difference between a win or a loss.

I'd have to say Penix.

Question: How critical is the loss of LT Coy Cronk?

Blau: It's huge, because it doesn't just affect one position. Cronk, a fourth-year starter, worked in tandem with a first-year starter at left guard, junior Harry Crider. His breadth of experience, and his intelligence as a football player, was key in making calls at the line.

IU's replacements come with risk, as well. The Hoosiers could plug freshman Matthew Bedford in on the left side; he is immensely talented, but has needed time to absorb the playbook. Otherwise, IU will flip redshirt sophomore Caleb Jones to left tackle and play fifth-year senior DaVondre Love on the right side. Love isn't the strongest Big Ten tackle, which could present issues in the run game. Aside from Cronk's absence on the field, he is also one of the Hoosiers' vocal leaders. He can offer encouragement from the sideline, but it's not the same as having one of your captains on the field.

A season-ending injury to left tackle Coy Cronk will put more importance on the role of offensive lineman Caleb Jones (77).

Question: Can RB Stevie Scott and the running game find any room against MSU’s defense?

Blau: No idea. This will be one of the more fascinating facets of the game to watch. IU's running game was lackluster through the first three weeks of the season, carrying for a combined 2 yards per carry in a win over Ball State and a loss to Ohio State. The ground game showed great improvement versus UConn last week, picking up 178 rushing yards, but the Huskies were one of the worst defenses in college football last year.

Michigan State's stout defensive front should be closer in talent level to Ohio State than UConn. In the Hoosiers' first game without Cronk, they will certainly try to establish the run, but it's entirely possible they will have to find more creative ways to get Scott the ball than just dives up the middle.

Question: What impact has new coordinator Kalen DeBoer had on the offense?

Blau: The unavailability of Penix has made it hard to tell, to an extent. When Penix started against Ball State, we saw the Hoosiers taking more shots downfield, aiming for the "explosive" plays they've been craving. With Ramsey at the controls, IU's offense looks a lot more like last year, with plenty of short to intermediate throws, which fit the redshirt junior's skill set.

One noticeable difference, though, has been the increased role of the tight end. Last year, Peyton Hendershot led the position group with 15 receptions. IU's tight ends were the 10th-, 12th-, and 13th-most targeted receivers in the Hoosiers' corps. But this year, the redshirt sophomore Hendershot leads IU with 18 catches for 234 yards and three scores. DeBoer is trying to make defenses account for the tight end more. He also wants to get running backs catches out of the backfield. There is definitely an emphasis on being "multiple" formationally, as well as spreading the ball around to lots of different receivers.

Question: Has Indiana’s defensive identity changed since former LB coach Kane Wommack?

Blau: Not really. Wommack runs the same defense, a 4-2-5, which Tom Allen brought to IU when he became the defensive coordinator in 2016. Allen actually learned the scheme from Wommack's dad, Dave, who was the defensive coordinator at Ole Miss from 2012-16. For a couple of those years, Allen was a special teams coach for the Rebels and Kane Wommack was a grad assistant. They came into this head coach-coordinator relationship with a pretty close bond, so it's no surprise they are philosophically matched.

Wommack, the youngest defensive coordinator at a Power Five school, isn't shy about sending pressure, like Allen. He's preaching the importance of takeaways, like Allen. And as long as Allen is the head coach, those things aren't going to change.

Players to watch

Peyton Ramsey, QB: The junior has started the last two games as redshirt freshman Michael Penix has been out with an undisclosed injury. Ramsey has the benefit of having played twice against the Spartans and is coming off a solid game in the win over UConn where he was 23-for-27 for 247 yards and three touchdowns, the fourth time in his career he’s thrown three TD passes in a game.

Stevie Scott, RB: The sophomore is trying to build off an outstanding freshman season in 2018 and has scored four touchdowns in the first four games. He’s gained 215 yards on 58 carries and has also caught eight passes, meaning he’ll be involved heavily in the offense as the Hoosiers try and find some running room against the Spartans.

Reakwon Jones, LB: The fifth-year senior is the leader of the Hoosiers’ defense with a team-best 24 tackles. Jones recorded a career-high 11 tackles in the victory over Ball State to open the season then had six stops last week when Indiana knocked off UConn.

Indiana running back Stevie Scott III rushed for 1,137 yards as a freshman.

Facts and figures

Standing tall: The Hoosiers are coming off an impressive defensive performance, limiting UConn to three points and 145 total yards, with 94 yards being gained in the passing game and 51 on the ground. The 145 total yards allowed were the fewest allowed by the Hoosiers since giving up 138 to Michigan State in 1991.

Throw it around: Through four games, Indiana is second in the Big Ten in passing offense, gaining 308.5 yards a game through the air. Sophomore tight end Peyton Hendershot leads the Hoosiers with 18 receptions for 234 yards with three touchdowns, ranking fourth among tight ends nationally in catches.

Big day: The Hoosiers had an offensive explosion in the 52-0 win over Eastern Illinois, something that might be tough to replicate in the Big Ten. Indiana gained 555 yards in that game and threw for 441 yards. While those numbers haven’t been coming consistently — namely because of the blowout loss to Ohio State — the Hoosiers are still averaging 429 yards a game.

Twitter: @mattcharboneau