No. 10 Spartans survive scare, improve to 7-0 with 20-15 victory in Indiana

Matt Charboneau
The Detroit News

Bloomington, Ind. — Mel Tucker likes his catchphrases and slogans.

The Michigan State coach has used plenty this year, from “Keep chopping” to taking teams to “The Deep End.”

They’re all meant to motivate his team, keeping the focus on each particular week, never looking too far ahead and never worrying too much about what’s already happened.

As No. 10 Michigan State prepared to take on Indiana Saturday, Tucker unveiled another mantra for the Spartans to follow.

“So what, now what?”

Michigan State players celebrate following Saturday's 20-15 victory against Indiana in Bloomington, Ind.

In other words, there will be some bad stretches. There will be bad plays, bad calls, missed assignments and missed opportunities. But to be successful, the focus has to be on the next play, regardless of what just took place.

“I think that's really the epitome of defense,” redshirt freshman safety Darius Snow said. “You’re always going to be put in adverse situations and, ‘So what, now what’ is just about the mentality of, ‘OK, this happened, now what?’ No matter if it's a good thing or bad thing, it’s about the next play.”

It proved to be exactly what the Spartans needed on Saturday as the offense struggled for most of the game and turned to the defense, a unit that has been resilient all season and was again against the Hoosiers, leading the Spartans to a 20-15 victory to recapture the Old Brass Spittoon and remain unbeaten heading into the bye week.

BOX SCORE: Michigan State 20, Indiana 15

“It was a good performance,” senior safety Xavier Henderson said. “Pretty gritty, I think.”

Gritty might be the best way to describe what took place in front of the Hoosiers’ homecoming crowd. Michigan State’s offense entered the game averaging nearly 500 yards a game, but found tough sledding against a solid Indiana defense, managing only 241 total yards, while the Spartans were also flagged for 12 penalties for 134 yards.

Michigan State was held without an offensive point in the first half for the first time all season, though it managed to finally cross the 50 in the second half, make a few plays and find some tough yards, getting a touchdown pass from Payton Thorne to Tyler Hunt and two Matt Coghlin field goals.

“It was just like, ‘Holy cow, we’ve got to get moving,’” said Thorne, who was 14-for-26 for 126 yards with two interceptions. “We did in the second half, which was good. I wish it would have been a little bit better still, but in the second half we got the job done.

‘”But credit to our defense for playing outstanding football.”

More: Spartans vow to 'be better' after offense sputters against Hoosiers

There was plenty of that as the Spartans (7-0, 4-0 Big Ten) got its only points in the first half on an interception that Cal Haladay returned 30 yards for a touchdown.

But the most impressive stuff from the defense came as it limited Indiana to three field goals, despite outgaining Michigan State 217-57 in the first half.

“That was very important,” Haladay said. “Bend but don't break. It ended up being 12 points we saved on those three drives, which is big because look at the score. That’s a big deal.”

There was more of that in the second half, namely late in the game.

After Hunt’s touchdown put Michigan State ahead, 17-9, Indiana took advantage of two pass interference calls to move down the field and pull within 17-15 on a 1-yard run by Stephen Carr with 12:56 to play. The two-point conversion attempt was stuffed, and Michigan State responded with a 49-yard field goal from Coghlin.

The teams then traded punts before Michigan State’s Chester Kimbrough stripped the ball from Indiana quarterback Jack Tuttle and recovered the fumble at the Hoosiers’ 23. But two plays later, Thorne was intercepted in the end zone by Noah Pierre.

The Hoosiers had one last shot with 3:14 to play, but Jacub Panasiuk had one of three Michigan State sacks before the Spartans took the ball over on downs, eventually milking the clock for the victory.

“Disappointed and frustrated right now,” Indiana coach Tom Allen said. “I thought the kids played hard, the defense played awesome and they did what we asked them to do. We kicked too many field goals in the first half and didn’t finish in the fourth quarter.

“It’s disappointing, without question.”

More: Niyo: Senior TE Tyler Hunt symbolic of resourceful, unbeaten Spartans

Indiana (2-4, 0-3) has now lost four games this season to teams ranked in the top 10, including Michigan State, Iowa, Cincinnati and Penn State.

The defense did well enough, limiting the Spartans to 241 yards while Kenneth Walker III was held in check, gaining 84 yards on 23 carries. Wide receivers Jayden Reed and Jalen Nailor never got going, either, both having at least one drop, Reed’s coming on what likely would have been a long touchdown.

But the Hoosiers’ offense couldn’t find the end zone more than once, getting three field goals from Charles Campbell, all coming in the first half as backup quarterback Jack Tuttle, in for the injured Michael Penix, threw for 188 yards and was intercepted twice.

Coghlin’s first field goal, a 51-yarder, put Michigan State ahead, 10-9, with 7:54 left in the third quarter. The defense then rose again as Jacob Slade got in Tuttle’s face, forcing a poor throw that was intercepted by Darius Snow, setting the Spartans up at the Hoosiers’ 39. Six plays later, Thorne hit Hunt with a 12-yard touchdown pass, giving Michigan State a 17-9 lead with 1:49 left in the third quarter.

Indiana responded with Carr’s touchdown but wouldn’t threaten again as Coghlin got his second field goal and the defense stood tall late, getting Michigan State a win that won’t go down as a masterpiece, but is certainly one the Spartans will take.

“I think you can get into trouble when you think it’s always gonna be easy,” Tucker said. “But it’s not going to be. Now, we can make things easier on ourselves if we execute better and limit penalties, but it's tough. Like I told the offense at halftime, we're not going to wait on one play. We’re not gonna wait for an 80-yard pass or a 90-yard run. That’s not what this is gonna be about. If that happens it happens, but that's not what this game is all about. “This game was about grinding it out, executing every play, taking what the defense gives you, taking what's there and possessing the ball and moving the chains and doing whatever it takes.

“Sometimes it looks like that. This Big Ten football.”

Twitter: @mattcharboneau