Know Thy Enemy is a Q&A where the perspective changes from the eyes of The State News to the eyes of the student newspaper of Michigan State's opponent. This week, The State News' football beat writer Jacob Smith spoke with football beat writer Matt Press of the Indiana Daily Student ahead of Saturday's Indiana-Michigan State game.
The Michigan State Football team has continued to struggle immensely against ranked teams this season, coming off a 38-3 loss to Ohio State. The Spartans will have a chance on the road to face an opponent closer to their speed as they are set to face Indiana on Saturday. Both teams come into the matchup 1-6 in the Big Ten and a 3-7 record overall. Kickoff is scheduled for 12:00 p.m. on Big Ten Network.
Q: The Hoosiers come into this matchup 3-7 and 1-6 in the Big Ten. What has been the story of the season so far, and why have they struggled particularly in the Big Ten but also as a whole?
A: "I think as of late, I think the main story has not been not being able to play complementary football for four quarters," Press said. "We've seen these really fallible swings in terms of both offense and defense. In the start of the year against Ohio State, especially the secondary, looked pretty strong and they kind of carried that over to the next few weeks. And then I think it kind of came to a halt against Maryland. (Taulia) Tagovailoa kind of had a lot of explosive plays. And that's sort of when the secondary sort of seemed to deteriorate a little bit. Then obviously, Noah Pierre, who's the sixth-year senior husky position for Indiana gets hurt about a week or two ago' that's just a major loss. He's kind of the heart and soul of the defense. And then we saw against Illinois, I want to say it was 504 passing yards, 662 total yards Indiana gave up, that's tied for the most under Tom Allen's tenure, and it's tied for the most since I think 2013 that Indiana's given up. On the offensive side of the ball, that's primarily been the root of the team's problems this season. Walt Bell, offensive coordinator, he got fired after Maryland. Play calling was a big concern for most of the year."
Q: To begin the season, Tayven Jackson saw most of the reps at the quarterback position but was benched and hasn’t seen the field since Indiana faced Michigan. Brendan Sorsby has taken over that role as the starter since; how has this change helped the team?
A: "The quarterback carousel was also a big thing," Press said. "Both redshirt freshmen Tayven Jackson and Brendan Sorsby came into the season competing for the job. Sorsby has taken over the starting role over the last four games or so. He definitely had his best game against Illinois on Saturday, threw for 289 yards and two touchdowns, and is really kind of coming into his own as the guy. They (still have yet) to find an offensive identity, though, and that's just something they've been trying to establish all season. With Walt Bell, (there were a lot of options) and (overall) just not very successful at all, which ultimately led to him getting fired. More recently, it has definitely been a more downhill passing game. Donaven McCulley, a junior receiver who transitioned from quarterback last season, has really benefited from that. He had his best career game at receiver against Illinois. So yeah, I think Sorsby has been able to open up the field a lot. Tayven Jackson, too, kind of showed a little bit of promise in the downfield passing game but ultimately kind of struggled a lot in the short passing game. So the identity has been shifting more towards a pass-heavy game."
Q: Defensively, the Hoosiers have allowed 300 total points in the season and have struggled to stop opponents offensively. Has anyone stood out on that side of the ball, or can we expect to see similar trends against Michigan State?
A: "I wouldn't expect another game like Illinois just in terms of 500 plus passing yards," Press said. "I also wouldn't expect them (Indiana) to suddenly become a lockdown group. They've become pretty thin, as I've mentioned, with Noah Pierre being out and Amare Ferrell being out. So they have a lot of young guys that are kind of playing their first stretches of football in college. Jordan Shaw, a true freshman, was kind of thrusting against Illinois and really struggled. Kobee Minor is a young guy. Jamari Sharpe is a young guy. JoJo Johnson is another young guy. So it's kind of just a really inexperienced and untested group. But on the positive side, I will say Jared Casey, who has been the unquestioned leader of the defense alongside Noah Pierre at the middle linebacker spot, really came into his own last year, and this year has just taken a massive step forward both as a pass rusher and a run stopper and just being able to drop back and get into coverage. So that's kind of been one of the silver linings of Indiana's season. And Andre Carter, too, on the defensive line who transferred from Western Michigan this offseason, the sack numbers won't really show it, but he's been pretty disruptive. I think the pressure numbers kind of display just how effective he's been. So while the secondary has kind of taken steps back gradually throughout the season, I think Jared Casey and Andre Carter have definitely been two of the biggest silver linings."
Q: Score prediction?
A: "It's definitely going to be a slugfest," Press said. "I'll say it’ll be a low-scoring game, but I think Indiana will win this game. I'll say 20-13."
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