For 30 minutes, Indiana dominated the best defense in the Big Ten in ways no other team has to date.
In the first half of Saturday’s game against Michigan State, the Hoosiers scored more points against the Spartans than any MSU opponent has in an entire game and piled up more yards in that half than the average the Spartans allow in a game.
But after those first 30 minutes, Indiana didn’t score again.
The Hoosiers took a 17-0 lead in the first quarter and led 27-14 at halftime, but the Spartans shut Indiana down in the second half and scored 17 unanswered points to win 31-27, claiming the Old Brass Spittoon in front of 45,979 on Homecoming Saturday at Memorial Stadium.
Indiana (2-3 overall, 0-2 in the Big Ten) wasn’t supposed to keep it anywhere near this close, but that provided little solace because the Hoosiers let one get away.
“It’s not about moral victories, it’s about getting W’s,” IU coach Kevin Wilson said. “We let one get away today that we’ll remember for a long time. When you’ve got a chance to get that one, you’ve gotta get it. That’s a Spittoon. It’s a trophy game.”
Said junior cornerback Greg Heban: “It’s definitely demoralizing coming out like we did in the first half and giving that away in the second half.”
The stat lines from the two halves couldn’t have been any more different. The Hoosiers totaled 280 yards of offense in the first half, which surpassed Michigan State’s Big Ten-best average allowance of 263.4 per game. Sophomore quarterback Cameron Coffman completed 23 of 30 passes in the first half for 256 yards and three touchdowns. The Spartans (4-2, 1-1) were only allowing 167.2 yards per game through the air and had given up a total of three touchdowns through the air in their first five games.
Once the Hoosiers returned to the field, however, none of that offensive explosion was anywhere to be found. They finished with a grand total of 37 yards in the second half, 11 of them coming on the ground and 26 through the air. Coffman completed 10 of his 18 second half passes, but averaged just 2.6 yards per completion.
“This is a very good offense,” Coffman said. “Our coaches know what the heck they’re doing. They come in with a good plan and if we execute it, no one can stop us. The only person who can stop us is ourselves. We did that in the second half. It wasn’t them. They are a great defense, but we’re the ones slowing ourselves down and we can put points on everybody.”
There were at least a few small things the Spartans did. Sophomore wide receiver Shane Wynn, who led the Hoosiers with 12 receptions for 70 yards and a touchdown, said Michigan State moved it’s weakside linebacker further out on the edge and used him to both bring pressure and help snuff out the screens and swing passes that the Hoosiers used so effectively in the first half. The Spartans were able to both defend the flats and keep Indiana from beating them over the middle of the field with the deep posts that worked in the first half.
“Sometimes, their ability to take away the flats, if they’re coming up hard on some of those perimeter plays, you bait that and get over the top to keep ’em honest,” Wilson said. “We had that in the first half, and I don’t know if we got that worked up in the second half.”
Meanwhile, the Spartans finally got their offense going after managing just 22 yards of total offense in the first quarter. Junior Le’Veon Bell was rarely able to bust loose, but slowly wore the Hoosiers down and finished with 121 yards and two touchdowns on 37 carries. Junior quarterback Andrew Maxwell struggled early but ended up with his best day, completing 24 of 40 passes for 290 yards and two touchdowns. Freshman wide receiver Aaron Burbridge, who had two collegiate receptions to his name before Saturday, finished with eight receptions for 134 yards.
The Hoosiers took control quickly out of the gate with a seven-play, 75-yard drive that took just 1:17 on the clock and ended on a 19-yard screen pass by Coffman to junior tailback Stephen Houston for a touchdown. The Hoosiers forced Michigan State into two three-and-outs before a field goal by junior Mitch Ewald made it 10-0, and the Hoosiers then took advantage of a critical roughing the kicker penalty with a 21-yard touchdown pass from Coffman to tight end Ted Bolser. Michigan State answered with a 2-yard touchdown run by Bell that capped a 75-yard drive and then a 15-yard swing pass for a score from Maxwell to tailback Larry Caper, but the Hoosiers took a 13-point halftime lead thanks to a 17-yard touchdown pass from Coffman to Wynn and a 19-yard field goal by Ewald.
The Hoosiers’ offense ground to a halt in the third quarter, however and Michigan State took control. The Spartans got a 46-yard field goal from kicker Dan Conroy in a messy third quarter and then controlled the ball for almost the entirety of the fourth quarter. Indiana went three-and-out on each of its last three possessions, the Spartans had possession for all but 1:46 in the fourth quarter and got a 1-yard score from Bell and a 36-yard touchdown pass from Maxwell to receiver Bennie Fowler to steal from the Hoosiers a promising opportunity.