Spartan 'O' explodes for 42 points in big Homecoming win on Saturday
State News football reporters Dillon Davis and Stephen Brooks along with freshman running back Delton Williams discuss MSU’s 42-28 victory over Indiana.
When Indiana running back Tevin Coleman sprinted 64 yards to the house 61 seconds into the game, flashbacks of last year’s first-quarter scare in Bloomington, Ind., washed across the crowd of 73,815 fans, students and alumni on Homecoming weekend.
Memories of the Hoosiers and their fast-paced offense racing out to a 17-point lead through one quarter came back into focus.
It took just four plays Saturday for Indiana (3-3 overall, 1-1 Big Ten) to get on the scoreboard and momentarily confirm the questions about how MSU’s defense would fare against the high-powered Hoosier offense.
Coleman’s burst turned out to be an alignment error by the Spartans, who made the necessary adjustments to cruise to a 42-28 win.
MSU (5-1, 2-0) allowed season-highs in points and total yards, but its own offense made significant progress for the second straight week as the program improved its homecoming record to 64-31-3 in Spartan Stadium’s 500th game.
“We’ve tried to stay positive with our guys and kept saying, ‘When it does turn, it’s going to turn in a big way,’” head coach Mark Dantonio said.
“I think today was an indication of that.”
MSU’s six-touchdown day took a little longer to get going than the Hoosiers, but once it did, the points seemed to pour in. It was a relieving sight from a team that has put together some ugly outings on the offensive side of the ball.
The Spartans gashed Indiana on the ground for 238 of their 473 total yards in their best rushing performance of the season outside of blowing out FCS opponent Youngstown State.
“To be able to play against Indiana, you’ve got to be able to keep that ball,” Dantonio said. “You’ve got to make first downs, you’ve got to take some clock because your defense has to rest some because they’re going to be going every single play very fast at great speed.”
Running back Jeremy Langford kicked off his breakout game with an 11-yard touchdown reception early in the second quarter for his team. The junior carried it 23 times for 109 yards and scored four total touchdowns, all career highs.
“Seeing him succeed out there just with the whole balanced passing, it’s just a great, reassuring feeling — especially as a quarterback — knowing we can run the ball like we did,” sophomore quarterback Connor Cook said of Langford.
Cook completed 22 of his 31 passes for 235 yards while distributing the ball to 11 different players.
MSU took its first lead, 14-7, on a 34-yard catch-and-run from senior wide receiver Bennie Fowler with 7:13 left in the first half.
Sophomore wide receiver Macgarrett Kings Jr. fumbled away a punt on Indiana’s next possession, allowing the Hoosiers to tie it up. MSU regained the advantage when Langford capped a 14-play, 75-yard drive with a 5-yard touchdown run just before halftime.
The Spartans held a 28-21 lead when Langford finally broke the big one he and his coaches had been waiting for when he blazed 32 yards down the sideline for a touchdown.
A pair of true freshmen drove MSU 73 yards to pay dirt for its biggest lead of the day early in the fourth quarter. Playing in his second game, running back Delton Williams took back-to-back carries for 37 and 2 yards before wide receiver R.J. Shelton scored on a 34-yard reverse, which put MSU ahead 42-21.
Williams finished with 92 yards on 12 carries as the power alternative to Langford’s quickness.
“We know we’re good at running the ball, it’s just that we (were) going to have to really enforce it this week and show everyone else that we’re good at running the ball,” Williams said.
Signs of growth
MSU ran two offensive teams at its defense in practices last week in an attempt to mimic the Hoosier’s up-tempo pace. Their speed left the Spartans shell shocked in 2012, but aside from Coleman’s run on the first drive, MSU’s top-ranked defense kept Indiana in check.
The Hoosiers were held 16 points and 184 yards less than their season averages.
“It is a tough thing to simulate,” senior linebacker Max Bullough said. “Their offense is fast, they have good players, they do what they do and they do it quickly. So that is kind of the hard part.”
The Hoosiers and their high-flying attack were a test unlike anything else MSU will see in the regular season. Indiana head coach Kevin Wilson said the stout Spartan defense actually caused his team to operate at a faster pace than he wanted at times.
“Those guys have a lot of pride in their defense, the way they attack and play,” Wilson said.
Not only did MSU’s offense light up the scoreboard, but it did so in a clean and efficient manner. It converted all three red zone chances into touchdowns — an area where the Spartans have struggled this season — and only turned the ball over once when Cook threw an interception in garbage time.
The Hoosier defense might not have offered much resistance, but it allowed MSU to look like a complete team and build confidence.
On Saturday, MSU honored the 1987 Rose Bowl team as part of the weekend’s festivities. On the field, the 2013 version looked capable of being the first Spartan team to return to Pasadena, Calif.
“We’re 5-1 and we can set the tone for the next phase,” Dantonio said. “We’re halfway through the season. Now we start playing for things.”