4 storylines for Indiana’s game at Michigan State #iufb

1. Are the Spartans due for a letdown?
Saturday’s last-second win at Michigan gave the Spartans one of their all-time most memorable wins in their long history against the Wolverines. After such a thrilling and emotional conclusion, how do they respond? Even without the big win in Ann Arbor, this week already had the classic makings of a trap game for Michigan State. Hosting Indiana comes a week after a rivalry game and a week before the Spartans head to Nebraska for a nationally-televised game against the Cornhuskers. If the Hoosiers continue piling up points and benefit from a turnover or two, this game could swing in IU’s direction.

2. Jordan Howard’s availability
The return of Nate Sudfeld last week was a big step forward, but Indiana truly needs its starting running back healthy and available as soon as possible. The Hoosiers will forever wonder what kind of difference a healthy Howard might have made late in the Rutgers game. This week, they might get him back. Howard’s status won’t be revealed until game time, but IU coach Kevin Wilson said the junior has been “doing more” in practice this week. If Howard can’t go, he’ll have two weeks to heal his ankle thanks to next weekend’s bye. If that’s the case, IU should continue finding ways to involve speedy hybrid back Mike Majette in its offense.

3. The Old Brass Spittoon is on the line
The trophy, awarded to the victor of this matchup since its inception in 1950, has been in Spartan hands since 2007. The Hoosiers have claimed possession of the Spittoon only twice since 2001, the year they marched into East Lansing and took it through a 37-28 win. Winning at Michigan State hasn’t come easy for Indiana, which is 6-23-1 on the road in this series. But the Hoosiers should be playing mad after last week’s collapse, and added levels of anger and controlled aggression could be the boost IU’s program needs to get back on track and reclaim the trophy.

4. Can the Hoosiers improve their third-down defense?
Indiana was in the process of showing significant improvement on third down until last week’s debacle, when it allowed Rutgers to convert 12 of 20 third down opportunities, including five of the final six. Entering last week, IU had held its previous three opponents to a 23 percent conversion rate, which was a significant drop from the 50 percent success rate opponents posted in the first four games of the season. There’s little room for error this week, especially against Michigan State quarterback Connor Cook, who leads an offense that’s second in the Big Ten with a 46.7 percent third-down conversion rate.