Bloomington, Ind. — One minute and 17 seconds.
In one, quick instant the Spartans heralded defense surrendered a touchdown, and the Hoosiers’ early flash proved to just be the beginning.
The bursts, and MSU personal foul penalties — six total — kept coming, and as the final seconds ticked off the clock to end the first half, the MSU football team was heading to the locker room trailing Indiana at halftime 27-14, the fifth time in six games the Spartans have been forced to find a second half rally.
It was Indiana’s first halftime lead since Oct. 29, 2009, and MSU head coach Mark Dantonio said he told his team simply and frankly that it was time to make a statement.
“There wasn’t a lot of yelling or screaming or guys going off on people or that type of thing,” Dantonio said.
“It was ‘this is what has to happen. We’re 13 points down, we get the ball (to start the second half, and) we’re one score away from getting back into the game. There’s no need to panic, but you need to do your job. We’ve got a chance to make a statement here. One way or the other, we’re going to make a statement.’
“There was no if’s. One way or the other we were going to make a statement. Either you bounce back, or we were going down. Either way there was a statement to be made.”
The Spartans (4-2 overall, 1-1 Big Ten) responded in the second half, outscoring Indiana (2-3, 0-2) 17-0 to steal a victory on the road 31-27, and nab their first conference victory.
After allowing sophomore quarterback Cameron Coffman to complete 23-of-30 passes for 256 yards and three touchdowns in the first half, MSU’s defense stiffened, stymying the Hoosiers offense by limiting Indiana to 37 total yards.
The strong play of the defense helped junior quarterback Andrew Maxwell have the best game of his young career, completing 24-of-40 passes for a career-high 290 passing yards and two touchdowns, including completing 20-of-32 passes for 281 yards following the first quarter.
The junior’s primary target was MSU’s newest starting receiver, freshman Aaron Burbridge, who became the first MSU freshman receiver to total more than 100 yards in a game since 2004, finishing with eight catches for 134 yards.
Dantonio said he knew Burbridge was up to the challenge, comparing him to former receivers Mark Dell and Keshawn Martin, who both made an impact as freshmen, and Maxwell said, for Burbridge, this is only the beginning.
“Aaron really stepped up like we were expecting him to,” Maxwell said.
“I think the best news of all is that he’s just going to keep getting better from here. This is his first start, he’s kind of starting from square one, so if that’s the kind of start you’re going to have in your first game, you’re going to keep getting better as you have more experience.”
Yet it was MSU’s most veteran receiver, the one who was bumped out of the starting lineup earlier in the week in place of Burbridge, that made the game’s biggest play.
With the Spartans trailing 27-24, Bennie Fowler caught a deep ball from Maxwell, made a man miss, and scored the game-winning 36-yard touchdown with 6:35 remaining.
Fowler had struggled with dropped passes the previous three weeks, but Maxwell said he knew his receiver would respond this week, and Fowler said his quarterback’s unwavering confidence was the differnece.
“I haven’t made the plays that I needed to make in these last couple weeks, they gave Aaron Burbridge the start … and I just had to stay positive,” Fowler said.
“Maxwell and I have a great relationship that we’ve established over the last four years. He knew I was in a little bit of a slump and right when I got into the game he threw me the ball to get me into a rhythm. … He always has my back, as I have his.”