Brandon Moore’s Indiana-MSU preview

What: Indiana Hoosiers vs. Michigan State Spartans
When: noon, Saturday
Where: Memorial Stadium
Series: Michigan State leads 38-14-2
Broadcast: WTTV-4; IU Radio Network (105.1 WHCC Bloomington, WIBC 1070 AM Indianapolis)

The Hoosiers (4-4, Big Ten 2-2) will look to bounce back from a blowout loss to the nation’s top-ranked team while the Spartans (4-4, Big Ten 1-3) will come in riding the emotion of last week’s win over Northwestern. The teams will be playing for the Old Brass Spittoon.

Indiana came out of the OSU game relatively healthy, and that’s about the only positive from a 44-3 loss. The Spartans achieved the greatest comeback in NCAA Division I-A history by overcoming a 35-point third quarter deficit to win 41-38. Earlier this season against Notre Dame, however, the Spartans blew a similarly large lead, so the question is, “Which Michigan State team will show up Saturday?” Given the fact IU lost to a Div.-IAA team and beat a top 15 team, it’s a fair question for either squad.

THE COACHES
INDIANA: Head coach Terry Hoeppner still has the Hoosiers in contention for a bowl game, which is saying something. He was disappointed with the OSU loss, but is hoping for a big crowd and a better performance out of his team this week. Hoeppner’s record through 19 games at IU is 8-11.

MICHIGAN STATE: Head coach John L. Smith has a 22-22 record through three-plus years in East Lansing and has seen his share of ups and downs. The Spartans have made a name for themselves over the last few years by winning early in the season before falling out of contention down the stretch.

OFFENSE
INDIANA: Indiana played a great football team last week, and that makes it a bit hard to gauge any progress that was made. Kellen Lewis made a few plays, but his passes were not very accurate and his numbers were unimpressive. Still, considering Lewis was under pressure from a phenomenal pass rush almost every play, it’s fair to assume he grew up a little.

The running game struggled against Ohio State, which was pretty much a given, but Demetrius McCray’s return to the lineup has given the Hoosiers a boost. McCray has proven himself more effective than Thigpen when it comes to turning the corner, and he did nothing against the Buckeyes to change that.

The receiving corps has battled minor injuries throughout the season, but it’s still clear the majority of the Hoosiers’ striking ability remains there. James Hardy needs to continue to see more touches, but the younger players are stepping up their pace along with the steadying play of the veterans.

The offensive line was badly overmatched against the Buckeyes, and it showed. But the Spartans have a pretty staunch D-line too, so the Hoosiers, and in particular true freshmen Rodger Saffold and Pete Saxon, would be well-served to have learned a thing or two last week.

MICHIGAN STATE: The Spartans are averaging almost 30 points per game, and senior quarterback Drew Stanton has been a big part of that. Stanton is a dangerous passer and runner, but he can be a little out of control at times. Still, as Stanton goes, so go the Spartans.

MSU opened the year with a pair of talented backs who, along with Stanton, comprised the majority of the team’s rushing attack, but their leading rusher, sophomore Javon Ringer, got hurt. Junior Jehuu Caulcrick has filled in admirably, but there’s no question the Spartans are more one-dimensional without Ringer.

The Spartans have a good group of receivers, with four players over the 200-yard mark in receiving yards so far this year. Seniors Kerry Reed, Matt Trannon and Jerramy Scott will give the Hoosiers’ secondary some fits. Trannon is built like Hardy and could be trouble as no IU defensive back can match his size.

The Spartans’ offensive line has had to deal with a number of injuries throughout the season, and it shows. The mix of young and older offensive linemen has led to what appear lapses in communication, which has resulted in more than a few blown protections.

DEFENSE
INDIANA: The Hoosiers should be relatively comfortable going against Stanton & Co., given the Spartans run a very similar offense to what they’ve seen in practice for the last few months. Porter will stay busy, but whoever lines up at the other corner — whether it’s Leslie Majors, Chris Phillips or Joe Kleinsmith — will have to step up. The Spartans will throw the ball around and mix in some sweeps, draws and quarterback runs to keep the Hoosiers honest. Hoeppner has re-emphasized the importance of staying in coverage this week, one of last week’s focuses against Troy Smith, when the quarterback scrambles.

MICHIGAN STATE: The Spartans have a lot of upperclassmen in their defensive two-deep rotation, but there are some flaws there that a veteran squad should not have. The Spartans are led in tackles by sophomore free safety Otis Wiley (it’s never good when a player in the secondary leads the team in tackles — see Indiana, led by Will Meyers). The defensive line is better with the pass rush than playing the run, so they will need to maintain CRC — which is coaching jargon for counter, reverse, cutback — responsibilities. Senior linebacker David Herron Jr. anchors the middle of the field and is as good in coverage as he is against the run.

KEY PLAYERS
INDIANA

Kellen Lewis: Lewis is the quarterback in a spread offense, and that position will always be key. Still, Lewis needs to continue to develop timing with his receivers and minimize the freshman mistakes.

Demetrius McCray: McCray has shown good ability in short bursts this season, but the Spartans could show a lot of deep zone coverage, which would open the running lanes. If the touches are there, McCray can offer good balance to the Hoosiers’ attack.

Will Meyers: Meyers is a veteran for this group, and with all that experience he should be the best at recognizing what the offense is doing. Meyers needs to communicate with the other defensive backs to minimize the breakdowns in coverage that have plagued the Hoosiers throughout the season.

MICHIGAN STATE

Drew Stanton: Stanton makes this offense move. He needs to keep them moving because this game could turn into a shootout.

Jehuu Caulcrick: Caulcrick is a bruiser, but he needs touches to be effective. Caulcrick won’t get that, so he needs to focus on getting to the second level when he does get the ball.

David Herron Jr.: Herron will be right in the middle of Indiana’s offensive attack all day. Kellen Lewis has looked more comfortable throwing the short passes over the middle. Herron will need to own the middle of the field to keep the Hoosiers from moving the ball.

PROBABLE STARTERS

INDIANA OFFENSE

LT: Rodger Saffold, 6-5, 275, Fr.
LG: Pete Saxon, 6-6, 310, Fr.
C: Justin Frye, 6-5, 296, Sr.
RG: John Sanberg, 6-2, 290, Jr.
RT: Charlie Emerson, 6-5, 266, Jr.
WR: James Hardy, 6-7, 216, So.
WR: James Bailey, 6-2, 205, So.
WR: Jahkeen Gilmore, 6-0, 211, Sr.
QB: Kellen Lewis, 6-1, 177, Fr.
RB: Marcus Thigpen, 5-9, 182, So.
TE: Matt O’Neal, 6-1, 229, Sr.

INDIANA DEFENSE

LE: Jammie Kirlew, 6-3, 250, Fr.
DT: Joe Kremer, 6-2, 295, Jr.
DT: Greg Brown, 6-2, 303, So.
RE: Kenny Kendal, 6-3, 250, Sr.
WLB: Josh Bailey, 6-1, 220, Fr.
MLB: Adam McClurg, 6-0, 230, Jr.
SLB: Geno Johnson, 6-2, 210, So.
CB: Leslie Majors, 5-9, 170, Jr.
FS: Will Meyers, 5-11, 201, Sr.
SS: Austin Thomas, 6-2, 210, Fr.
CB: Tracy Porter, 5-11, 181, Jr.

INDIANA SPECIALISTS

PK: Austin Starr, 6-2, 199, So.
P: Tyson Beattie, 6-1, 204, Sr.
KR: Marcus Thigpen
PR: Tracy Porter

MICHIGAN STATE OFFENSE

LT: Rocco Cironi, 6-6, 288, Fr.
LG: Pete Clifford, 6-7, 300, Jr.
C: Kyle Cook, 6-3, 295, Sr.
RG: Roland Martin, 6-5, 325, So.
RT: Jesse Miller, 6-6, 306, So.
TE: Dwayne Holmes, 6-0, 277, So.
QB: Drew Stanton, 6-3, 230, Sr.
RB: Jehuu Caulcrick, 6-0, 260, Jr.
WR: T.J. Williams, 6-3, 184, Fr.
WR: Kerry Reed, 6-2, 198, Sr.
SL: Jerramy Scott, 5-10, 186, Sr.

MICHIGAN STATE DEFENSE

DE: Justin Kershaw, 6-4, 254, So.
DT: Clifton Ryan, 6-2, 302, Sr.
DT: David Stanton, 6-3, 290, Sr.
DE: Ervin Baldwin, 6-2, 252, Jr.
LB: Kaleb Thornhill, 6-1, 239, Jr.
LB: David Herron Jr., 6-1, 245, Sr.
LB: Sirdarean Adams, 6-0, 230, Jr.
CB: Greg Cooper, 5-11, 186, Sr.
SS: Travis Key, 5-10, 185, Jr.
FS: Otis Wiley, 6-2, 209, So.
CB: Demond Williams, 5-9, 174, Sr.

MICHIGAN STATE SPECIALISTS

PK: Brett Swenson, 5-8, 151, Fr.
P: Brandon Fields, 6-6, 235, Sr.
KR: Demond Williams
PR: Terry Love, 5-11, 177, Jr.