For No. 24 Michigan State, the hope is that it came at exactly the right time.
Coming off a loss at Arizona State, one in which the Spartans gave away a 10-point lead in the fourth quarter, the Spartans headed back home limping. It wasn’t just because of the oppressive heat or the fact they had suffered an emotional loss, it was as much because of the team’s overall health.
Already without sophomore cornerback Josiah Scott for the first month at least, Michigan State was also missing sophomore defensive end Jacub Panasiuk. Add in injuries to senior running back LJ Scott and fifth-year senior guard David Beedle during the Arizona State game and Michigan State was a team in need of a break.
But as much as it was a chance to heal, it was also a chance to hit the reset button headed into this week’s Big Ten opener at Indiana.
“I think when you come off a game like that, first of all, you have an opportunity to look at really what happened in the game and step back and deal with it,” coach Mark Dantonio said. “Then you also have a chance to get over it. But usually the best way to get over a tough loss is to play another game. I don’t know, again, you go back, Catch 22 situation on those things.
“Nobody likes to lose and when you lose, you want to get back on the other end — the other side of things.”
The Spartans (1-1) will have that chance this week against the Hoosiers (3-0), who enter the game unbeaten in nonconference play for the second straight season. Indiana has had its share of success in the matchup, beating Michigan State in 2016 and holding a fourth-quarter lead last season before the Spartans rallied.
“I think IU has played us very well and they expect to play us very well again,” Dantonio said.
“It’s been a close football game, you know, really, throughout time, really, even when there’s been a couple of occasions where we’ve sort of distanced ourselves it’s been at the end of the game. … It’s always been a great football game and a great football game to watch and they have always been a great challenge for us.”
The question for Michigan State is has the extra week helped?
There’s no doubt there’s plenty of room for improvement. The offense has struggled to run the ball and quarterback Brian Lewerke has been under pressure while the defense has been solid in the run game but has given up more than 300 yards passing in each of the first two games.
“I think our players have had an opportunity to sit on this and dwell on this a little bit and they have also had time to step away from football for a day or so; we gave them that opportunity, as well,” Dantonio said.
“I’m looking forward to watching our players play on Saturday night. That’s all I can tell you.”
–QB Brian Lewerke continues to throw the ball well, completing 70 percent of his passes through the first two games. However, he’s been intercepted in each of the first two weeks, the second coming in the end zone at Arizona State. It hasn’t helped that he’s been under more pressure than he was last season, his first as Michigan State’s starter. But pressure or not, it appears the junior will need to carry the Spartans’ offense until the running game can find its footing.
–LB Joe Bachie continues to be the heart of the defense with 21 tackles through the first two games. While Michigan State’s defense has given up big chunks of yardage in the passing game, it continues to be impossible to run against. The Spartans have allowed only 34.5 yards a game on the ground, best in the nation. Much of that is thanks to Bachie, though, until the Spartans can slow opponents’ passing attacks, teams will likely shy away from running the ball at all.
–DT Raequan Williams had five tackles at Arizona State, including two for loss while coming close to scooping a fumble and running it back for a touchdown. He plays a big part in Michigan State’s run defense, and along with fellow junior tackle Mike Panasiuk, clogs up the middle of the line.
–P Jake Hartbarger is out 6-8 weeks after suffering a bone bruise on his right kicking leg in the loss to Arizona State.
–CB Josiah Scott, out since camp with an undisclosed injury, has not returned to practice, coach Mark Dantonio said early this week.
–RB LJ Scott and fifth-year senior G David Beedle each left the Arizona State game with injuries but are expected back this week.