Sunday, December 5, 2021

Preview: The battle for the Old Brass Spittoon, game prediction

November 13, 2020
Redshirt freshman center back Davion Williams (14) rushes past Indiana’s defensive back Jaylin Williams (23) during the homecoming game against Indiana on Sept. 28, 2019 at Spartan Stadium. The Spartans led the Hoosiers 21-14 at halftime.
Redshirt freshman center back Davion Williams (14) rushes past Indiana’s defensive back Jaylin Williams (23) during the homecoming game against Indiana on Sept. 28, 2019 at Spartan Stadium. The Spartans led the Hoosiers 21-14 at halftime. —
Photo by Sylvia Jarrus | The State News

Indiana has had its share of problems with Michigan State in recent years.

The battle for the "Old Brass Spittoon," the fabled trophy game between MSU and IU has been dominated by Michigan State, who leads the all-time series 48-16. This season, Indiana is trying to avoid an upset at 3-0 on their season so far. Michigan State, at 1-2 is trying to get back to .500 and add a statement win.

"Indiana is a good football team, I like the way this team is built," Mel Tucker said Tuesday. "They play complimentary football, offense, defense and special teams. They’re a physical football team, they’ve got a difference maker at quarterback, their receivers are very good, they have a big offensive line, a big running back and they rotate 17 guys in their front seven. In their secondary, they have really good range and they run and they hit hard. Special teams, they play hard, they've got good specialists. It's a well run football team and I can see why they are 3-0."

The game Saturday is one that can define or rewrite the memories of fans, a roster and a season. But Indiana is hot and Michigan State is not, after a 49-7 loss to Iowa last weekend.

Indiana hasn't beat the Spartans since 2016, when the Hoosiers won in Bloomington 24-21 during the 3-9 season that sticks out so much at the tail end of Mark Dantonio's career as head coach.

But there is one key matchup this weekend and its about one player on IU will make or break this game.

Key matchup: Quarterback Michael Penix Jr. vs. the Spartan defense

A secondary that struggled with misdirections, tackling and a run game against Iowa — an offense predicated on being able to throw the football.

What could go wrong? Even if adjustments to a 4-2-5 defensive scheme that isn't seamless with a shortened season have come up. MSU's defense has shown flashes at times and was missing star linebacker Antjuan Simmons for most of the Iowa game, on top of already not having starting corner Chris Jackson — who didn't travel to Saturday's game for undisclosed reasons.

But Penix Jr. is different, the type of player that wins games. If MSU is going to handle a lefty quarterback that can throw inside, out, and in between, they need to find what Tucker said: "Consistency."

"To generate takeaways is huge," Tucker said, a few days after the Spartans caused zero. "We talk about turnover margin, you know, Ad nauseam, so they do come in bunches and we have been close. You know, tips and overthrows we gotta get those on defense, the ball came out, we didn't get it. So, we have drill work ... we really need to work to get the ball out, to get the ball out you have to be in a position to make the play, you have to get more guys to the point of attack."

A point, Tucker hopes, his team starts taking to heart.

If the Spartans are going to have a chance Saturday, they will need to limit the same quarterback who completed 25 throws in a row, finishing with 33 completions in 2019 during a 40-31 homecoming game loss in East Lansing.

Penix Jr. is pretty good — maybe, to say the least — and threw for 342 yards against Michigan.

"Good" might even be an understatement for a guy who just passed 50 times in a 38-21 win over previously ranked Michigan.

"We have to have our rush and our coverage working together," Tucker said on the MSU defense and how the unit can improve.

Indiana, who is second in the Big Ten in total points scored, might make that hard. The Tom Allen-led Hoosiers are far from a one-man-band.

Ty Fryfogle, Whop Philyor and Stevie Scott II create matchup issues at every level of the defense. It'll be on the secondary of MSU to handle the big plays and Penix Jr., with one interception all season, takes care of the football.

"He's a good player and they've got some good wide receivers," Brown said Wednesday. "It's gonna be a challenge but we're just preparing."

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If the MSU defensive line and secondary can be physical and attack this Hoosier offense things might be close. IU is favored by a touchdown, but the deficit could be more for MSU if that doesn't happen.

Prediction: Indiana 42-28 over MSU

Indiana vs MSU usually produces something exciting, it has for the past five years. The Spartans are rocking the throwback S-helmets, but that won't make a difference.

MSU has entered a phase, the Michigan has less gusto now, of rebuilding. Things might not be pretty this season, but with the way Mel Tucker is recruiting, that can change.

A defense that is banged up, a roster that is in total and even more so during the war of attrition season that COVID-19 has reigned over college football, it could get ugly. Indiana will win this one, by two scores.

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