Bob Wojnowski and John Niyo are joined by former Michigan running back Chris Howard, and later by Matt Charboneau to talk about what's next for UM and MSU. The Detroit News
VIEW FROM OTHER SIDE
Mike Miller, who covers Indiana for the Bloomington 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.
Question: The Hoosiers have played well defensively at times this season, especially against the pass the last two weeks. How do they sustain that for an entire game in the Big Ten?
Answer: Their depth still is not great, but it's much better than what it used to be just in terms of quality and sheer numbers. That's helped them proceed without injured starters A’Shon Riggins, a corner, and hybrid safety Marcelino Ball. The capacity is certainly there to put forth a complete performance against a Big Ten opponent. IU has two of the Big Ten's best defenders in linebacker Tegray Scales and corner Rashard Fant. But the Hoosiers need to be sharper than they were against Michigan last week, when they missed too many tackles, blew a couple critical assignments and, yet again, failed to come up with a single takeaway.
The Hoosiers have had a difficult stretch to start the season, with losses to Ohio State, Penn State and Michigan already in the ledger. IU played well defensively against Ohio State, before wilting late. It was much the same case at Penn State in a game where IU's special teams units unraveled. The performance against Michigan was a bit more disappointing. But midway through the year, it does feel like it's only a matter of time before Indiana puts forth the kind of complete defensive performance many believe is there.
Q. Since making the switch to Peyton Ramsey at quarterback two games ago, how has the offense responded? Has the redshirt freshman made an impact?
A. Naming Ramsey the starter two weeks ago was the necessary switch. For one, senior quarterback Richard Lagow simply wasn't accurate enough. He has an NFL-caliber arm but lacked the touch and mobility that IU needs at the position. Indiana's offensive line is young and inconsistent, so Ramsey's dual-threat capabilities add a much-needed dimension that IU did not previously have when the pocket breaks. He doesn't have nearly the arm-strength of Lagow, which is concerning given that the receiver position is IU's deepest and most talented. But he's shown good ball placement in taking advantage of some of the shorter, timing routes that Indiana has used in recent weeks. Ramsey, a redshirt freshman, won't overpower a secondary, but he'll scramble and take what's available. It's made him an early success, with plenty of room to grow.
Q. After last week’s close call with Michigan in overtime, how does Indiana bounce back?
A. It needs a more complete defensive performance, including at least a takeaway or two. That, and more consistency from its offense line and backfield. Allen, a defensive-minded head coach, preaches about the importance of takeaways, but Indiana has so far struggled to follow through. IU is last in the Big Ten in turnover margin (minus-nine) and has a conference-low four takeaways on the year. To win on the road, that has to change.
Q. The Hoosiers haven’t won in East Lansing since 2001. Does the win at home last season give them confidence heading to Spartan Stadium?
A. It does. Since first arriving as defensive coordinator last fall, Allen has demanded that his players believe they can beat each team in the Big Ten East. Even with the three early conference losses, this is a confident team. Last year's Michigan State game really gave this program confidence that it can compete defensively with the more traditionally successful programs in the Big Ten. Plus, this is a very experienced defense that lost only one starter from last year's team. Although their offense is still a work in progress, the Hoosiers are willing to lean on their defense away from Bloomington. That was a major factor in IU securing a road win at Virginia in early September. Indiana has found ways to compete in nearly every game the past two and a half seasons. They're confident and seemingly hungry to get a meaningful road win.
Q. Tom Allen seems like a fiery guy. How has he changed the culture of the Hoosiers since taking over as the head coach before last season’s bowl game?
A. He's toughened them up, while also using positive reinforcement. It all stems from when he first took the defensive coordinator job in January 2016. That's when Allen noticed how mentally drained this defense was. At that point, the Hoosiers were coming off a truly dreadful defensive season after already having heard for years just how bad they were. All that outside talk was certainly true — they were very, very bad — so Allen's initial goal was to rebuild the collective confidence. He changed the scheme from a 3-4 to a 4-2-5, but maintained the whole time that this group needed confidence and belief more than it needed a schematic adjustment. Gradually, throughout last season, that confidence built. It started with a fine road performance at Florida International, grew with the overtime win over Michigan State and continued to grow the following week in a loss at Ohio State. Indiana needs to find steadier offensive play moving forward, but the Hoosiers no longer worry about their defense. Incredibly, with Allen's toughness and guidance, defense has become this program's strength.
HOOSIERS TO WATCH
■ Peyton Ramsey, QB: The redshirt freshman has started the last two games and threw for 321 yards and two touchdowns in his first start against Charleston Southern. He became the first IU freshman to throw for 300-plus yards since 2006. In his first Big Ten start last week against Michigan, he rallied the Hoosiers late to force overtime, throwing for 65 yards and a touchdown in the final four minutes of the game.
■ Tegray Scales, LB: The senior was named second-team All-American last season by Sports Illustrated and has continued to stand out this season, leading the Hoosiers with 48 tackles while recording 11 double-digit tackle games. He had a career-high three sacks against Penn State while adding a team-high 11 tackles. That came after Scales opened the season against Ohio State with 12 tackles, including nine solo stops.
■ Rashard Fant, CB: The senior is the NCAA’s active leader and IU career leader with 52 passes defended and 48 pass break-ups. The second-team All-Big Ten selection from last season has 10 career games with multiple pass break-ups and enters the matchup with Michigan State with a team-high four pass break-ups.
FACTS AND FIGURES
■ Run stoppers: Michigan State continues to be among the overall defensive leaders in both the Big Ten and the nation, but it has been especially effective stopping the run. The Spartans are allowing 93.3 yards a game, third-best in the Big Ten and eighth in the country, setting up a favorable matchup against Indiana, which is 10th in the Big Ten at 137.3 yards a game.
■ Home cooking: Michigan State is playing its 102nd homecoming game and enters with a 66-32-3 record. The Spartans are 8-2 in homecoming games under coach Mark Dantonio and are 11-1-1 against Indiana. It’s also the 64th meeting between Michigan State and Indiana while the Hoosiers ended a seven-game skid to the Spartans with last year’s win. They haven’t won in East Lansing since 2001.
■ Getting defensive: The Spartans rank second in the Big Ten and fifth in the nation in total defense, thanks in large part to the play of sophomore linebacker Joe Bachie. The middle linebacker leads MSU with 50 tackles and in the win over Michigan two weeks ago he became the second Big Ten LB since 2012 to record double-digit tackles, one interception, one forced fumble, one sack and a pass break-up in the same game.