Spartans Defense Too Strong for Indiana: MSU Win 35-21

Memorial Stadium Bloomington, IN (PHOTO:  Duffy Carpenter)
Memorial Stadium Bloomington, IN (PHOTO: Duffy Carpenter)

Coming out of the bye week, No. 24 ranked Michigan Statehit the road on Saturday night to take on unbeaten Indiana with the hopes of bouncing back from its week two loss to Arizona State.

The Spartans controlled much of Saturday night’s game, but after taking a 28-7 lead late in the third quarter, were unable to put the game away until late in the fourth quarter, holding on for a 35-21 win over the Hoosiers, claiming the Old Brass Spittoon for a second straight year.

After ending the first half with a touchdown, Michigan State (2-1 overall; 1-0 Big Ten) opened up the second half with a 21-7 lead, looking to put the game out of reach early.

Following a three and out on its first drive, the Spartans drove down inside the Indiana 10-yard line with the help of a 16-yard pass and catch from Brian Lewerke to Connor Heyward, but the drive stalled out at the 6-yard line, setting up for a field goal attempt.

But the Spartans would find their way into the end zone with the help of some trickeration as Lewerke, the holder on field goal attempts, took the snap and ran out to his right and pitched the ball out to Matt Coghlin, the kicker, and Coghlin ran the ball in from six yards out, diving into the end zone to extend the Spartan lead to 28-7 with 4:47 left in the third quarter.

The Spartan defense came up with a crucial stand late in the third quarter and early in the fourth after Lewerke was intercepted deep in Michigan State’s own end. With the Hoosiers taking over on the Michigan State 7-yard line, the Spartans would stand tall, turning away the Indiana offense, forcing the Hoosiers to settle for a Logan Justus field goal, cutting Michigan State’s lead to 28-10 early in the fourth.

The Michigan State defense couldn’t prevent the Hoosiers from taking advantage on their next takeaway. Indiana (3-1 overall; 0- 1 Big Ten) turned a Cam Jones interception into a 90-yard scoring drive and a 65-yard touchdown catch-and-run by Whop Philyor, cutting the lead down to just 10, 28-18, after the two-point conversion and giving the Hoosiers new life with 8:19 left to play.

Philyor proved to be a headache for the Spartans all night on Saturday, recording 13 catches for 148 yards for the Hoosiers. Ramsey became the latest quarterback to find success against the Michigan State secondary, completing 31 of his 43 pass attempts for 264 yards and two touchdowns, but did throw two interceptions as well.

The Hoosiers would later cut the deficit down to just seven, 28-21, after Justus’ second field goal of the game, this time from 36-yards out with 3:28 left in the game.

Michigan State would answer in a big way moments later.

On the first play of the ensuing drive, true freshman Jalen Nailor took a handoff on an end around and turned upfield, scoring on a 75-yard touchdown run, giving the Spartans a 35-21 lead, all but sealing the win for the Spartans.

Lewerke helped pace the Michigan State offense, throwing for 213 yards and two touchdowns on 14-of-25 passing, but committed three turnovers on the day, including two costly interceptions.

The Michigan State run game was near non-existent for much of the game, as the Spartans totaled -12 yards in the first half and 131 yards on 40 carries for the game. Without Nailor’s long touchdown run late in the fourth quarter, the Spartan rushing attack totaled a disappointing 76 yards on 39 carries against one of the nation’s worst run defenses.

The Spartans started fast on Saturday night, jumping out to a two-score lead in the first quarter as the Spartans scored on their second drive of the game, an 8-play, 60-yard drive that would be capped off by a 16-yard pass from Lewerke to Nailor to put the Spartans on top, 7-0. The catch marked Nailor’s first career college touchdown.

With Indiana driving inside Michigan State territory on the ensuing drive, a Peyton Ramsey pass would go off the hand of running back Stevie Scott and fell into the hands of freshman Shakur Brown, who returned the pass 69 yards for a touchdown, extending the Michigan State lead to 14-0 with 5:35 left in the opening quarter.

Brown entered the game just one play before his interception, replacing Josh Butler, who had been flagged for a defensive hold.

The Michigan State offense struggled for much of the first half following its first touchdown and only ran eight plays on its next four drives, which resulted in three punts and one fumble.

The Hoosiers managed to cut the deficit in half midway through the second quarter, taking advantage of a La’Darius Jefferson fumble near midfield and cashing in on an eight-yard pass from Ramsey to Scott with 6:54 left before halftime.

After the defense forced a three and out in the next Indiana offensive series, the Michigan State offense began showing signs of life after taking over on its own 26-yard line with 1:23 left before halftime.

Working out of the hurry-up offense, the Spartans easily marched deep inside Indiana territory, moving the ball down inside the 15-yard line in just five plays after a 19-yard pass from Lewerke to Felton Davis III. Two plays later, Lewerke found tight end Matt Dotson in the back of the end zone for an 11-yard score, pushing the lead back to 14, 21-7, heading into halftime.

One of Michigan State’s keys entering Saturday’s game was to limit penalties and turnovers, but the Spartans were plagued by both throughout the contest, committing four turnovers (two interceptions, two fumbles) and eight penalties for 72 yards.

The Spartans will look to improve to 4-1 on the season when they wrap up their non-conference schedule next week at Spartan Stadium against Central Michiganon Saturday afternoon.

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