Normally, redshirt sophomore quarterback Payton Thorne is the one dropping dimes into the laps of the receivers but today, he was the one hauling in the pass with a defender draped on his back.
Following sophomore safety Darius Snow’s first career interception, Michigan State was set up in Indiana territory for only the second time in the game with less than 4 minutes remaining in the third quarter. The Spartans were up 10-9 thanks to an early pick-six from Cal Haladay but were looking to build on its minimal lead.
Offensive Coordinator Jay Johnson went into the depths of the playbook to generate the spark for MSU. On the second play following the interception, Michigan State ran what seemed to be an off-tackle run with sophomore running back Jordon Simmons.
Simmons pitched it back to redshirt senior backup tight end and former backup punter Tyler Hunt instead of cutting upfield, who then dropped back to pass. With a defensive end in his face, Hunt delivered a strike off his back foot to Thorne on the sideline in a window between two defenders and the quarterback rose up and brought the ball in with Indiana starting senior linebacker Cam Jones on his back.
“That's gonna have to go up there with a few catches that I had in recess back in elementary school but that'll be up there for sure,” Thorne said when asked if it was the best catch he's ever made.
Hunt's first career touchdown gave Michigan State a 17-9 lead going into the fourth quarter and the Spartans did not relinquish the lead again. The eight-point advantage gave the Michigan State defense a cushion to work with and the unit responded by only allowing six points for the rest of the game.
The trickery from MSU’s offense proved to be a catalyst for the MSU offense that had been stifled by the Hoosiers' defense all day. The following drive for MSU was its longest of the day (13 plays for 60 yards) and ended with a field goal from Matt Coghlin to push MSU’s lead back up to five.
That field goal drive followed Indiana’s only touchdown drive that cut the game to 17-15 early in the 4th quarter. MSU pushed the lead back up to five and did not let the Hoosiers score again to win 20-15.
The creativity from Johnson in the second-half play-calling was a big difference for Michigan State after being held to a season-low 57 yards in the first half. The mix of moving the pocket on play-action passes along with the trickery helped MSU manufacture drives against an Indiana front that had been dominant throughout the first half.
“You gotta give credit to Jay Johnson and the offensive staff to be able to make some adjustments based on what they're doing and put our guys in a position where we can make some plays and move the ball,” Michigan State Head Coach Mel Tucker said following the game.
The creativity and adjustments for Michigan State did not lead to an explosive outburst in the second half that is expected from the Spartan offense this season. The Indiana defense held MSU to 184 yards and 13 points in the latter half, but that proved to be more than enough for MSU to win thanks to the all-star performance from MSU’s defense all afternoon.
Michigan State was not its normal self against a stout Indiana defense led by senior linebacker Micah McFadden, who Thorne said was the best defender MSU has faced, but a timely call from Johnson and perfect execution from Hunt and Thorne on the reverse pass proved to be enough to exit Bloomington unscathed with the Old Brass Spittoon onboard to East Lansing.
“That's just crazy,” Safety Xavier Henderson said. “And coach Johnson getting a little spicy in the call game right there. It was fun to watch.”
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