How awesome is it to be 2/3 of the way through the 2015 season and be undefeated? It’s very awesome. Sure, the Spartans are ranked #7 but they’ll likely move up this week after #3 Utah lost. The issue this year, at least with the polls, is not winning, it’s winning handily. The Spartans haven’t crushed their opposition and so the AP writers haven’t given them higher rankings. I think that’s fair. This is a long race we’re in, no need to worry about position until we come around the final turn.
The Spartans had their hands full with the Hoosiers for much of the game riding on a 1-point lead, then a 2-point lead, until finally busting it wide open in the fourth quarter. The final score looks like a blow-out but it was anything but. Kudos to Indiana for fighting hard, especially on defense which showed well considering it’s their biggest weakness.
The Spartans prefer a balanced attack, but it was an air war in this game as neither team could really get the running game going. The Spartans had 540 yards of total offense with 33 first downs and converted 13-20 third downs. MSU’s offense stayed on the field grinding up yards and chewing up clock, and that my friends is how you neat a hurry-up passing attack like Indiana’s.
Our man Connor Cook looked NFL-quality staying in the pocket, mostly avoiding sacks and painting a variety of receivers all over the field. Cook went 30-52 for 398 yards, a personal best, and four TDs. That’s big time production right there. And he looked the part standing tall and leading the team confidently. He took a few hits (he ran the ball more than a few times, and pretty darn well too) and went off for a play after taking a shot to the ribs, but Connor was right back and seemed unaffected.
The receiver corps had a great day as well 30 receptions by seven different players. Aaron Burbridge continues to delight with eight catches for 128 yards and a TD; he is also looking NFL-quality more and more with each outing.
R.J. Shelton is Mr. Everywhere hauling in six catches for 76 yards and two TDs.
Macgarrett Kings Jr. showed great hands pulling in seven for 69 yards, as did Josiah Price with three for 51 and a TD, Paul Lang had three for 35, Gerald Holmes had two for 28 and Jamal Lyles rounded out the group with one for 11. Most of the time, these Burbs and Kings were heavily (overly) covered and had to go get the ball; it was a beautiful thing.
On the ground, it was a tough day once again as the Spartans could only pick up 142 yards on 44 carries. When your O-line is banged up and depleted, the running game suffers big time. But the Spartan backs continued to pound anyway. True freshman LJ Scott led the way with 11 carries for 68 yards and a TD. This kid is really good and he has a nose for the end zone. Gerald Holmes fought hard for 39 yards and a TD on 10 carries, Holmes showed a lot of promise in this game and with London out, it’s great to see him stepping up.
The O-line health is Michigan State’s biggest issue. Will this bye week coming up help? Yes, but it’s not going to fix the problem, just improve the situation a bit. Down the stretch, protecting Cook and opening the run will be major challenges. I love the heart these guys are showing as “next man up” has gotten well beyond the two-deep list. Every team faces injury challenges of one type or another, and it’s the teams that can dig deep and re-write the game plan that come out on top. I think the Spartans are doing that to the best of their ability.
When Nate Sudfeld is hurling pin-point passes, I really miss Denard and Waynes. That’s not to diminish the good work this defense is doing, but those guys were weapons and game-changers.
MSU held Indiana to 389 yards and 20 first downs and only allowed them to convert five of 11 third downs. That’s exactly what the Spartans needed to do: Stop the run, hold them from converting a bunch long passes for first downs or TDs, and get them off the field. The Hoosiers time of possession was only 21:01. Turn-overs helped as well, especially at the end with a pick and a fumble recovery late in the game which opened up opportunity for the Spartan offense to pull away.
The Hoosiers only netted 81 yards rushing on 23 attempts. The D-line and linebackers played tough against the hurry-up offense with guys like Joel Heath, Shilique Calhoun, Riley Bullough, Shane Jones, Demetrious Cox, Grayson Miller (who had a pick on the first play!) and Jon Reschke making a big impact. How about a shout-out to Chris Frey for snagging that fumble recovery! Bullough and Calhoun each had a QB sack, and that is always appreciated.
Overall, this defense held strong. Indiana did score, but that’s what Indiana does. As the game wore on, our defense got stronger and created the turn-overs that allowed the Spartans to pull away. That’s as much as you can ask for, in my book.
Getting better? Kind of? Let’s start with the good shall we. R.J. Shelton had a really nice kick return for 58 yards that was one man away from being six points. That was nice. Macgarrett Kings Jr. had only one punt return, but it was a nice 17 yards dash that gave the Spartans great field position. Our return men had a much better day than the Hoosier’s, we haven’t been able to say all that much this year.
Redshirt freshman Jake Hartbarger handled all of the punting duties this week and fared pretty well with four punts averaging 42.5 yards. Too my eyes, Hartbarger’s challenge is confidence. He’s got a big leg and when well-protected, he boots it a mile, but when the defense is coming at him, he kicks the laces for 30 yards sometimes. He’s improving. I bet he’s awesome over the next few years.
Place kicker Michael Geiger went one-for-one on two attempts. What? Well, the first one didn’t get kicked as the snap was very high and the holder ended up tucking and running, sort of. But when Geiger did kick, he made it, and that’s good news even if it was only a 21-yarder. I should add that he did make all of his PATs too.
Kickoff specialist Kevin Cronin seems to finally be finding his leg, and he had lots of practice on this day. Cronin kicked off nine times with four touchbacks. I think that is more touchbacks then he has had all year. His last few kicks were pretty short though, but sometimes that works out too as the Hoosiers mishandled one of them and it almost led to a turnover deep in the red zone.
A nice win and a good-looking final score, even if the game was much closer than that for three quarters.
Did you notice that when the deluge of rain came, it was isolated to one Indiana possession? Maybe God favors the Spartans? After last week we can say that God certainly does not favor the Wolverines. Ha!
Next week is a bye week for the Spartans. Time to rest up, heal up and then fire up for a road-trip to Lincoln to take on the Cornhuskers of Nebraska on November 7th. The Huskers are not having a great year, but they won’t go down without a fight either. I really hope to see more starters and two-deepers back for Nebraska, and the rest of the season.