IU O-line struggles continue at Michigan State

EAST LANSING, Mich. — Fixing this Indiana offense won’t be easy.

Not with an offensive line this banged up and ineffective.

IU’s O-line, already trying to navigate the rigors of Big Ten season with young and inexperienced players, took another step backwards in Saturday’s 17-9 loss at No. 18 Michigan State.

The Hoosiers played without starting right guard Simon Stepaniak, who has been dealing with an injury since early last month, and lost starting left tackle Coy Cronk to an unspecified injury during the second half. Without a Big Ten-caliber line, Indiana struggled once again to get a consistent push and provide an adequate pocket for quarterback Peyton Ramsey for much of the day.

Fielding seasoned players was already a problem for this group. On Saturday, it hurt the Hoosiers once again.

Indiana coach Tom Allen did not have a postgame update on Cronk, a two-year starter, who was seen on the sideline with an ice pack taped to his knee late in regulation. Stepaniak, meanwhile, dressed for pregame warmups, but did not play.

“Those guys are beat up,” Allen said.

Without Stepaniak, Indiana started redshirt freshman Mackenzie Nworah at right guard before later inserting Delroy Baker at the position. Baker has practiced both at tackle and guard.

When Cronk went down, IU turned to tight end-turned-tackle Danny Friend.

Starting tight end Ian Thomas also did not play. He was a gametime decision.

Light punishment for Scott

On Wednesday, LJ Scott was arrested for his seventh driving infraction in the past two years.

On Saturday, his punishment was light.

The Michigan State running back sat for merely the first offensive series before returning to his spot atop the depth chart and finishing with 87 yards on 22 carries.

Indiana allowed him to score on an 18-yard touchdown run late in the fourth quarter to prevent the Spartans from running out the clock.

MSU coach Mark Dantonio said afterwards that Scott has squared away the issue with his driver’s license, while also playing the price of public ridicule.

“I guess the biggest way to say it is young people are going to make mistakes, but they’re my young people,” Dantonio said. “It’s like my family, so you’re going to try and take care of those guys, try and usher them forward and try and help them resolve their issues as best you can. Ultimately, you know, sometimes you’re put in situations where you have to make very tough decisions. However, this was not one of them. I felt like he got a speeding ticket. Everything else was sort of in order. There were extenuating circumstances as to a fine being paid, et cetera, but it’s a long story.”

Hale could miss season’s second-half

Indiana may lose a second receiver to an season-ending ailment.

Donavan Hale, who has not played since last month, recently had surgery on an unspecified injury and could miss the remainder of the season.

“We don’t know all that for sure,” Allen said. “There hasn’t been a final thing. He had surgery and I’ll know more probably this week on that, but it doesn’t look good.”

Losing Hale has been a blow, especially considering how he beat 1,000-yard receiver Nick Westbrook for the No. 2 receiver job in fall camp. Westbrook suffered a season-ending knee injury on the season-opening kickoff.

Hale posted seven receptions for 116 yards and a touchdown through IU’s first two games.

Hale’s replacement, Taysir Mack, did not make any catches for the second straight game.

Oakes bids Spartan Stadium adieu

Griffin Oakes’ last trip to East Lansing is one he’d rather forget.

Two years ago at Spartan Stadium, the Indiana kicker missed two extra points and a long field goal during another close ballgame IU lost late.

On Saturday, the Greenwood native made the most of his final visit to the venue.

Oakes accounted for IU’s offense Saturday, booting field goals of 33, 44 and 20 yards.

“I was a little pup back then, in my opinion,” Oakes said, reflecting on his unfortunate 2015 performance. “I’ve seen a lot of things since then. I knew coming into this that this was a game I struggled in and I wanted to everything in my power to perform at the best of my abilities.

“Obviously, I would’ve traded a couple of those shorter field goals for touchdowns, but it’s alright.”

Big day for Covington

Chris Covington asserted himself early and finished with a career-best performance.

The senior linebacker posted a personal-high 11 tackles and two tackles for loss. Covington also added a sack, giving him 3.5 for his career.

He was all over the Spartans on their second drive of the day, stopping running back LJ Scott for a two-yard loss on second-and-eight, then chasing quarterback Brian Lewerke and forcing a hurried throw on third down.

“He played hard,” Allen said. “I thought the whole defense played their tails off. Proud of them. Played tough, tough, tough.”

Whitehead gets leg up

For much of Saturday, IU’s special teams provided the Hoosiers’ only offense.

Kicker Griffin Oakes supplied three field goals, while punter Haydon Whitehead gave Indiana a leg up in the field position battle.

Whitehead, an Australia native playing in his seventh American football game, pinned the Spartans inside the 20-yard line on four punts, setting a new career high. He also averaged a career-best 43.6 yards per punt.

“Golly, that’s such a big part of the game,” Allen said. “When we went out to get him and to sign him, I envisioned him doing this kind of thing for us. Just so proud of him and how well he’s developed. If you know the kid, being the first time in this country and away from home, halfway across the world, literally, that’s tough. Really, really proud of him.”

End zone

Indiana held Michigan State under 20 points for the first time since a shutout performance during the 1993 season. … After limiting the Spartans to 185 passing yards, the Hoosiers have allowed an average of 81 yards through the air across the past three games. … Safety Chase Dutra led the team with a career-high 11 tackles and added two tackles for loss and a sacks. … Michigan State was Indiana’s 14th top-20 opponent in the past 29 games, the most of any Big Ten program.