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HALF: MSU trailing 9-7 in a close battle with Indiana

October 16, 2021

Michigan State is currently locked in a battle with the Indiana Hoosiers at halftime and trails the Hoosiers 9-7. The Spartans struggled to get anything going on offense in the first half, accumulating only 25 yards of offense in the first quarter and 32 yards in the second. MSU got on the board thanks to Cal Haladay, who jumped a slant from Indiana quarterback Jack Tuttle and returned it for a pick-six to give MSU a 7-3 lead.

Here are some takeaways from the first half of action in Bloomington:

Indiana’s defensive line has dominated MSU’s offensive line

Michigan State came into today with one of the best rushing attacks in the country thanks to Kenneth Walker III and consistent play from the offensive line. Today has been anything but for the Spartans through the first half, who have 23 rushing yards so far.

Walker has been bottled up for only 22 yards on 10 carries. He has struggled to find the sort of space that he’s accustomed to and Indiana has done a good job of gang tackling to prevent any show-stopping runs from Walker. 

The Indiana defensive line has also pinned its ears back on obvious passing downs and gotten to Thorne often. He has only been sacked once but has had little time to attack Indiana downfield. Junior wide receivers Jayden Reed and Jalen Nailor combined for one catch in the first half. They will need to get more involved in the offense to ease some of the pressure that MSU is facing upfront.

Payton Thorne has not been sharp so far today

Michigan State has 57 total yards of offense through two quarters today and cannot do anything productive with the ball in its hands, accounting for zero first-half points. MSU has almost as many penalty yards (40) as yards of offense through the first half. The rushing attack has been stifled by Indiana’s front seven and Thorne is not making plays through the air for the Spartans. 

Thorne is 4-10 for 34 yards. He has held onto the ball for a long time, trying to find his wide receivers on deep routes but has not connected so far. Most of his pass attempts have come under heavy duress from the Indiana pass rush and he has not been able to get the ball behind the secondary.

When Thorne has had time to set his feet and throw, he has still struggled. He has focused on his first read more often than not and forced the ball there whether the receiver is open or not. Also, Thorne is trying to stand tall in the face of pressure and deliver throws from the pocket. He has yet to tuck the ball himself and run to punish Indiana’s aggressive play in the secondary. If MSU wants to pull this one out, Thorne and the MSU offense need to be much better in the second half.

The MSU defense loves having its back against a wall

The first defensive possession for Michigan State was the perfect encapsulation of the group’s season so far. Indiana’s backup quarterback Tuttle found a rhythm early on against the MSU secondary with short passes against soft coverage on the edge. Tuttle completed seven passes on the opening drive, almost matching his total for the season before today, for 75 yards. 

Once Indiana got inside the MSU 10-yard line, the defense flipped a switch and stuffed Indiana, forcing a chip shot field goal. After the shaky start, the defense got MSU’s only score of the half, thanks to a pick-six from Cal Haladay. 

The sharpness came and went for the defense on each possession for Indiana’s offense, but one thing remained constant, MSU was not going to give up a touchdown. Indiana was able to move the ball consistently all half but was forced to settle for three field goals from Charles Campbell to give them the slight lead at half. The defense will need to be more aggressive on the short passing game but has done everything it can to keep MSU in the game. 

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