East Lansing — A week after limping to the finish, Michigan State’s defense wasn’t about to have a repeat performance on Saturday.
With the Spartans offense having trouble finding any sort of rhythm against Indiana, it was up to the defense to keep the Hoosiers at bay long enough for that offense to get moving. They did just that, holding Indiana to three field goals and limiting the Hoosiers to 253 total yards in No. 18 Michigan State’s 17-9 victory at Spartan Stadium.
“I just think we’re executing very well,” Michigan State coach Mark Dantonio said. “We’re believing in the system. We’re playing fast. We have a confidence factor right now and that’s all in the personalities of the players and the coaches, and that’s all interlined I think.
“They have a belief right now that they’re tough to score on. It was huge play after the fumble holding them to three (points), and that’s not the first time that we’ve done that, so that’s something that’s happened a number of times I believe.”
Twice the Spartans defense was in a tough spot — once because of a Madre London fumble at the Michigan State 15 and again late in the game when the defense allowed Indiana to march inside the MSU 15 with a chance to make it a two-score game.
Each time Michigan State forced a field goal.
After the London fumble, Indiana didn’t gain a single yard. And after the Hoosiers earned a first down at the Spartans 11 early in the fourth quarter, Michigan State again forced a field goal. That made it 9-3 in favor of the Hoosiers and six minutes later the Spartans had taken the lead.
“We’re always talking about all 11 executing. If we all 11 execute, on each and every play, we give ourselves a chance to win,” co-defensive coordinator Harlon Barnett said. “We talk about that. Red zone, we said they get in the red zone, make them attempt field goals. Make them attempt field goals. Still want to try to get the block on those if we can. That’s the mindset that we try to instill into our guys. We’ve been talking about it for a while now. They take to it and play well.”
Sophomore linebacker Joe Bachie, who led Michigan State with 13 tackles, came up with key stops on both of those drives.
“We just talked about bowing up,” Bachie said. “At the end of the game we got to finish, third-and-goal situations. We were out of our gap a little on that drive they were able to crease us a little bit and get 4 or 5 yards. We got to the sideline and we talked about bowing up, we got to finish the game, we got to make something happen. Just great to come out here with a win.”
Michigan State (6-1, 4-0 Big Ten) entered the game fifth overall in the nation in total defense and eighth in rushing defense. It held Indiana to 95 yards on the ground while the Hoosiers were just 4-for-17 on third downs.
It’s a big change from last season and it’s what is pushing the Spartans this season.
“Very resilient,” Barnett said. “They have trust and belief in one another. We always say, one of our things is trust yourself, trust your teammates and trust the defense. They make a play, one guy made a mistake or what have you, but there’s accountability there. I just mentioned, all 11 executing. There’s accountability there. Guys know when they mess up, and they’ll take responsibility for it and say it won’t happen again. Every play you forget the last one, move onto the next one and then you just try to execute. Execute your assignment, get it done. They believe that they do that, they can have success and we can have success as a defense.”